High-Speed Train to Nowhere?

ALPERN AT LARGE--I was, still am, and always will be a promoter of high-speed rail, if not higher-speed rail, when it works and makes cost-effective sense.

So are many of you, perhaps most of you, who are reading this. The $30 billion, then $100 billion, then $67 billion, then perhaps $100 billion plans for the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) just isn't right or fair for Californian taxpayers to put up with. For those of you reading this who do not get that...well, after all these years of opposition, maybe you never will. 

I was glad but concerned that the original $10 billion in bonds passed, but it only passed by 51%. The voters were skeptical...and then the CAHSR Authority treated it like the public teat that we feared it would be, and the hordes of private investors never really did show up.

And the result is akin to those angry with President Trump that American taxpayers, and not Mexico, was going to fund "The Wall" at our southern border. The suggestions that Mexico was going to indirectly pay for the wall are just as well received as those hearing how California was going to be economically improved by the CAHSR as planned. It became Governor Brown's personal conceit rather than what Californians were crying for in majority numbers.

Hence it was not failed GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox but recently-elected Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom who pulled the plug on expanding the CAHSR past its initial segment through Central California. Perhaps Governor Newsom can win over enough Californians to bash Trump (not giving the $2-3 billion of federal dollars back to the Orange man in the White House), but it's to be remembered that the Governor needs to be tactful with BOTH Washington and his own citizens.

So, let's presume that the Central California segment is going to be done, and that more money will be available through greenhouse-gas and gas sales-tax initiatives for transportation. Here are a few ideas on how to spend money dedicated to the CAHSR, and how to proceed with a higher-speed rail plan that makes sense to taxpayers who want more options but don't like the lies, lies, and more LIES coming from Sacramento:

1) EXPAND and facilitate Metrolink and Caltrans routes to double- or even triple-track current and future-expanded routes in order to increase commuter train speeds, increase the number of trains that use Metrolink and Caltrans, and consider changing diesel to electrified trains to create a local and statewide system that is cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.

2) STOP presuming that trains are going to blast through major metropolitan centers at hundreds of miles per hour. By doing so, we can work with Amtrak and the aforementioned Metrolink and Caltrans to allow for trains that move 50-100 miles per hour (maybe more) with cheaper, more cost-effective technologies compatible with the empty Central California portion that can accommodate faster speeds.

3) STOP adhering to a metric of trains competing with planes. Trains are faster and easier for intermediate distances than planes (like LAX to Bakersfield, or Union Station to San Diego, or San Francisco/Oakland to Sacramento), but when it's LAX or San Diego to San Francisco or Sacramento, then we need planes. And that's OK. SERIOUSLY, THAT'S OK!

4) START working with airports and airlines to create train/plane connections. Are airlines losing money with LAX to Bakersfield trips, for example? Because once LAX is connected to Metro Rail at 96th/Aviation, then it might make sense to reduce planes and work with expanded train options...with the airlines enjoying the benefits but helping in the costs of these train options. Ditto for San Francisco to Stockton and the like. MUST we compete with airlines to create a train network that benefits all parties?

5) FOCUS on the more local trains that connect Metrolink (and would, presumably, expand Metrolink and increase ridership) to LAX and Ontario? Shuttles and a planned Valley-Westside-LAX transit line will serve immediate and long-term needs if the money from CAHSR is diverted to counties for state-approved use. Did you know that the CAHSR considered using the rail-right-of-way between Union Station and LAX? How about enhancing coastal train routes from Santa Barbara to San Diego?

6) STOP giving the cold shoulder (if not ruder gestures) to taxpayers when they mention their cars. Both the poor and the rich alike are buying more cars than ever, while voting for trains more than ever. STOP the war on parking on cars, already! STOP IT!!! If I-5 and other major freeways can be expanded in the open spaces, is it THAT terrible to just do what the taxpayers want? Furthermore, parking allows drivers to access trains like we already see with Metrolink and Caltrain routes ... is that so bad?

7) Most importantly, WORK WITH the cities and counties to find out what's wanted. Californians have voted for transportation funds...so just do good polls and make sure the right projects get funded! Could the Wilshire and Sepulveda corridor subways use an extra $10 billion from Sacramento? Could we double the lanes for I-5 to help drivers?

There is nothing evil about cars, planes, or trains ... when they make sense. This isn't religion ... it's transportation! It's mobility! It's the economy!

And most importantly, it's our collective quality of life, and the California we want to hand over for future generations.


(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Outreach Committee, and currently is Co-Chair of both its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure and Planning Committees. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition and can be reached at alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)