Many positive responses to California’s new high-speed rail plan—and some hold-outs…

One day after the release of the California High-Speed Rail Program Revised Business Plan, the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive—although there have been some hold outs, both from people opposing the concept of high-speed generally, and supporters of the previous business plan.

Most news outlets have led with the $30 billion reduction in the net cost of the project.  The new plan does more than just change the price, however, extending the Initial Operating Segment (IOS) to Palmdale (south of the original IOS terminal in Bakersfield).  The IOS will now be 300 miles long, more than double the 130 miles originally called for.  By extending the high-speed spine of the central corridor, planners will be reducing travel time between Northern and Southern California sooner than originally scheduled.

That has local groups lauding the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new document.

“The plan provides a sensible and realistic approach to implementing high-speed rail in California, addressing many of the legitimate concerns from the draft plan,” said Daniel Krause, executive director of Californians For High-Speed Rail, a grassroots, statewide coalition of high-speed rail supporters.  “Because this revised plan reflects feedback from around the state, we are confident it will garner widespread support.”

Krause also pointed to the role the state’s elected officials played in the process, urging them to take the next steps forward.

“Given lawmakers’ high-level of involvement in the creation of the Revised Business Plan, this document is as much theirs as anyone else,” added Krause.  “…It is now time for the legislature to move this project forward without delay by releasing voter-approved bond funds to begin construction.”

National groups—who are looking to the Californian project to become a homegrown success story for high-speed rail in the U.S.—were quick to support the revised plan.

“There’s no more time to delay, gas prices are rising every day.  This project must now move forward to construction—there are many private companies standing by ready to bid, invest, and build the future of California—creating jobs and a new form of efficient transportation for the entire state,” said Andy Kunz, president of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association.

Given the potential effect this technology could have on the U.S. transportation network, it’s more than just rail groups who have responded to the new plan with enthusiasm.  America 2050, a national group looking to address infrastructure and economic development challenges that will come with America’s projected population growth, came out to support the plan.  California is expected to grow to 60 million people by the year 2050, and high-speed rail is a key element in the state’s plans to meet the growing transportation needs of its populace.

“It is clear that the success of high-speed rail in the U.S. is dependent on delivering real benefits to users at every stage in the process of project development and construction,” said Petra Todorovich, director of America 2050.  “The revisions to the California high-speed rail business plan address the urgency of translating taxpayer investment into transportation improvements in our commuting lifetimes.”

Opponents speak up, too

Some critics aren’t convinced, however.  State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), a longtime opponent of the project, was vocal in questioning the new price.

“We’ve seen numbers in the $30 billion, $40 billion, the $90 billion range, and now we’re back in the $60 billion range,” Simitian told reporters. “I think there is understandably both some confusion and skepticism about what is the system going to cost.”

The new cost is more than just financial restructuring, however, relying heavily on a “blended option” in the rail corridors leading into San Francisco and Los Angeles.  By using existing, conventional rail rights of way, CAHSRA is shaving years of the construction timeline, lowering the price—and lowering the average speed.

“This isn’t high-speed rail,” Quentin Kopp, who formerly served in the state senate and helped form CAHSRA, told the San Francisco Examiner.  “High-speed trains have separated tracks.  That’s how they could achieve speeds and travel times promised to voters in the 2008 ballot measure.”

It is certain that CAHSRA—revitalized under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown (D)—has made an earnest attempt to broker a compromise in this new business plan.  Advocates like Kopp believe that by accommodating local input, CAHSRA has compromised the project.

The bookends of high-speed rail systems are always the slowest points of the system, however, with trains required to slow their speed once they enter densely-populated urban areas.  With the Central Valley spine still intact, it appears that CAHSRA has been able, for the most part, to preserve what makes this project a game-changer.  And if the Governor hasstruck the Grand Compromise he set out to, this project is sure to be one of the hallmarks of his administration.