California Plans High-Speed Rail

California is moving ahead with an 800-mile high-speed train system serving Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego. High-speed trains will be capable of maximum speeds of 220 miles per hour, covering San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. The system is forecast to carry over 100 million passengers per year by 2030.

California voters approved the bond measure that commits state funds of almost $10 billion only when matched by $10 billion of federal funds and another $10 billion of public-private partnership funds. Congress and the new president are likely to support matching federal funds for high-speed rail. In this tight economy, high-speed rail will get better results for less money than using federal funds to widen California’s freeways.

Last May, President-elect Obama said. “We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices and it is a perfect time to start talking about why we don’t have better rail service. … [I]t works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using.”

Public-private partnership funding is also likely, because the rail system will be profitable. Build-own-operate models are popular in transportation with those that are likely to bid on building the system and providing the equipment. The McKinsey Quarterly in February 2008 reported that the world’s 20 largest infrastructure funds now have nearly $130 billion under management.

Support for rail and public transportation is nationwide, not just in California. Voters across the country in 16 states approved 23 measures out of 32 state and local public transit ballot initiatives, authorizing expenditures approximating $75 billion. For example, in Los Angeles, a $40 billion measure passed that will finance new and existing bus and rail lines. In the Seattle area, people voted to expand commuter rail and express bus service and to create a 55-mile light rail system by approving $17.8 billion.

Will Californians park their cars and ride the rails? Last year, LA Metro carried 64 million riders. In the Bay Area, BART carried 104 million riders. The new California High Speed Rail will link both these systems and 25 multi-modal public transportation systems in total. The forecast of 100 million passengers per year by 2030 may be conservative.

Because the rail will be powered by electricity, it is valuable to look at the power sources. In California, by law, 20 percent of the electricity will be from renewables by 2010. By 2020, it must be at least 33 percent. California is subsidizing one million solar roofs that include net metering. Pacific Gas and Electric is installing 800 megawatts (MW) of utility scale solar photovoltaics (PV). For 20 years, Kramer Junction has been delivering 350 MW of concentrating solar power. Added megawatts of wind, geothermal, and biogas projects are being added. By law, utilities must be 33% renewable by 2020. With California’s implementation of greenhouse gas emission cap and trade, renewables are likely to be the low cost source of electricity by 2030.

Using renewable energy, California’s High-Speed Rail is likely to be zero emission before 2030, saving over 20 billion pounds of CO2 annually and over 12 million barrels of oil annually.

In addition to 160,000 construction jobs over the next two decades, high-speed trains will generate 320,000 permanent jobs by 2030, growing to 450,000 jobs in 2035, according to the business plan.

For the LA to SF travel, train fares are expected to be 50 percent of an airline ticket. In 2030 LA-SF travel is forecasted at high-speed trains will carry 45%, air transportation 26%, and the automobile 29% of the total transportation market between the two biggest metropolitan areas in California. This will keep intra-state air travel constant and avoid an airport overcapacity crisis.

California High-Speed Rail builds on the success of other systems around the world.

The 456-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) which links Boston, New York and Washington D.C. is a successful rail corridor which is vital to the economy of the northeastern United States. It currently carries well over 200 million rail passengers. There are over 500 passenger trains per day in and out of New York City, 400 commuter trains, and 100 Amtrak trains.

Amtrak’s Acela service which operates on the NEC between Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. is the only passenger rail service in the United States that approaches high-speed standards traveling at maximum speeds up to 150 mph on about 35 miles. In comparison with high-speed trains operating in Europe and Asia, the Acela service would be considered a conventional rail operation. For example, Acela trains make the 226-mile trip between New York and Washington D.C. in about 2.75 hours, traveling at an average speed of about 80 mph.

In years past, I conducted many workshops on the east coast. It was always faster and easier to take Amtrak from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia and on to New York, than to fly. The stations are conveniently connected to public transportation, rental car service, and car sharing.

For 40 years, Japan, has been the role model in high-speed rail. The entire Japanese high-speed train network of 1,350 miles currently carries over 335 million passengers a year.

In France the TGV network, consisting of over 1,160 miles of new interconnected high-speed lines, carries over 100 million passengers each year. Spain and Germany continue to expand high-speed rail. London to Paris can be pleasantly traveled in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Eventually most of the European Union will be seamlessly integrated.

Twelve countries around the world take advantage of high-speed rail – from the United States to China. Soon the number will be 20 countries as Mexico, Russia, and others add their systems.

Oil usage in the United States and many other countries has peaked. At the moment, this is largely thanks to drivers’ reacting to high oil prices and a recession by replacing solo drives with employer commute programs and public transportation. Oil usage is likely to continue declining as efficient multi-modal transportation systems are linked together with high-speed rail – a cool solution for a heating planet.