Commentary by and opinion of Noel T. Braymer
California has for almost the last 100 years, for better or for worse been the trendsetter for this country. Whatever it is, it either starts or takes off in California before spreading to the rest of the county and often the rest of the world. Be it freeways, hula hoops, personal computers, Disneyland, surf music, skateboarding, McDonalds,smog, Ronald Reagan, drive-thru fast food, the internet. the tax revolt or Hippies, they all got their start or took off first in California. California was the first place in the United States to build modern Light Rail with the San Diego Trolley in 1981. San Francisco which never got rid of all of their Steetcars, upgraded them as the Muni Metro at about the same time. Soon thereafter we also had Light Rail systems in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Jose.
Recently much has been said in the media about how California is going in a different direction than the rest of the county. This largely has to do with renewable energy and High Speed Rail. California is by far the leader in solar roof panels and near the top for wind energy. Even more renewable energy can be expected in California in the near future as its Cap and Trade program expands with the goal of cutting back California’s Green House Gas emissions.
The California High Speed Rail Project has been a favorite whipping boy of the media looking for a sensational story with plenty of often fact free detractors eager to bash the project to the media. The High Speed Rail Projects has evolved over the years, overcoming its critics, several nuisance lawsuits, securing funding and is now starting up constructions of its initial 300 mile service between Merced and Burbank.
When anyone has money and is planning to buy something, they quickly become very popular with people hoping to sale what they are looking to buy. The California High Speed Rail Authority is now planning to buy a fleet of High Speed Rail Trainsets, along with a maintenance facility and electrification for these trains between Merced and Bakersfield. This will be used to create a High Speed Rail test track to test the equipment before revenue service begins in 2022 or so between Merced and Burbank.
There are 10 potential bidders from around the world all interested in winning this contract in California. It isn’t just this contract they are interested in, but winning this contract could well open the way for more work on this project as well as more future High Speed Rail projects all over the United States.
Two of the possible bidders are from China. The Chinese Government wants the 2 companies to merge staring with the California bid so they are not competing with each other. This will also improve the chances that China will win the contract. The Chinese are so aggressive to get High Speed Rail contracts that they are offering very generous financing through its Import-Export Bank. Recently they offered such a deal to Mexico for their first High Speed Rail project. The Chinese won the contract after being the only bidder. After public pressure, Mexican officials reopened the bidding to allow more bidders to compete.
The winner of this first major equipment contract for the California High Speed Rail Project will have to offer the best financing, lowest price and the best service. This will be a battle for companies from China, Japan, Germany, Spain, Canada, France and Italy. This puts California in the Catbird seat with so many companies and their home countries begging to get California’s business.
Elected officials in Washington opposing the California High Speed Rail Project are still threatening to kill it by withholding future Federal funding for it. California officials know that, and are going ahead with no plans for future Federal funding. With future funding from Cap and Trade, California will be able to make payments on financing from companies building the High Speed Rail project. So who is behind much of the opposition to High Speed Rail in this country as well as public transportation in general? It is largely the Oil Industry. Why is it so opposed? It is because improved fuel economy and emissions reductions will hurt the sales of oil and its profits. But California voters over several elections have made it clear that they want alternatives to the private auto, cleaner air and reduced emissions of Green House Gases.
High Speed Rail in California is very much tied up with Cap and Trade and reducing California’s consumption of oil. Future funding of California High Speed Rail will be coming from the Cap and Trade program which will promote renewable energy and reduction of fossil fuel use. The California High Speed Rail project plans to use only renewable energy for their trains and stations. This will mean that California High Speed Rail will not only be a major consumer of energy, but will likely also be a major producer of energy. This could lead to solar and wind energy production along the right of way and at the stations built for High Speed Rail. Several of the companies bidding for this projects are also in the renewable energy business.
What is often missed by people that oppose this project is they assume that High Speed Rail is primarily about going between San Francisco and Los Angeles as quickly as possible. Transportation is only a means to an end for California High Speed Rail. The real point of High Speed Rail is to redevelop most of California. Construction of this project will be a major economic stimulus for the State. Even now just look at the counties in California with sales tax money for building rail transit. You will see near the rail transit stations , construction of new housing and businesses. The same thing will happen on a greater scale with High Speed Rail.
A major reason for building stations in the San Joaquin Valley and Palmdale is to bring in new development and people to these areas. The high cost of housing is holding back the economy of California. Moving people to the inland areas to affordable new housing will give an economic shot in the arm to these rural areas. It will also provide new housing for many. This will also take some pressure off the crowded urban areas of California along the coast.
Dependable High Speed Rail service will connect the State and help unify it. The development created by High Speed Rail will have less sprawl and encourage greater use of other forms of public transportation and well as more bike riding and walking for transportation. Greater density and less sprawl will reduce the amount of travel people must do to go to work, shopping and for services.
To sum up, California High Speed Rail will go a long way to reduce Green House Gas emissions while reducing the cost of housing, transportation, and energy use for many Californians. It will be a major boost to the State’s economy and create many permanent jobs. It will also reduce California’s use of fossil fuels, particularly of oil, of which California is the largest consumer in this country. This will lead to other States following the example of California, even without funding from the Federal Government.
Governor Brown recently said that once constructions got underway that many more Republicans would support High Speed Rail. This was rebuffed by many. But back when the San Diego Trolley was being planned the then Mayor of San Diego, Pete Wilson opposed the “Tijuana Trolley”. Yet when Pet Wilson ran and won for Senator and Governor, videos of the San Diego Trolley were often seen in his political campaign television ads. It was Pete Wilson as Governor who signed the legislation creating the California High Speed Rail Authority in 1996.