California High Speed Rail on Track

The California High Speed Rail Authority will be holding public scoping meetings in Los Angeles County this week to solicit public input and provide detailed information on the project.

At the first open house meeting in San Diego on Tuesday, community members watched visual simulations of the High Speed Rail (HSR), learned about the proposed routes and weighed in with ideas.

The National Public Transit Advocate of California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), Erin Steva, stated that the meetings will help ensure public interest is kept up throughout the campaign.

“The goal is to make sure that the staffers are directing the public’s concerns. We want to make sure that we’re making High Speed Rail a project that the public can stand behind and let them know how each particular route can help them,” Steva said.

Proposition 1A, voted on by Californians in November will provide $9.95 billion to the HSR project, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) could provide up to $4.7 billion in federal funding.

Under the ARRA, $8 billion is to be allocated throughout the nation for the purpose of High Speed Rail projects. California representatives have applied for $4.7 billion of those funds – combined with state, local and private matching funds; this total could reach $10 billion.

When asked why California deserved such a large piece of the ARRA pie, Steva said The Golden State was competitive for a number of reasons.

“First and foremost, there’s demonstrated public support for the project, and money already allocated to the project from Proposition 1A. We’re also a state with high density – one of the most congested in the country. Finally, we’re one of the few regions that’s putting forth a true high speed rail project going up to 220 miles per hour,” Steva said.

That’s not to say that other states won’t be vying for the same funds.

“There are a lot of projects that are pretty competitive. There were over 200 applications received by the federal government,” Steva said. “We won’t know for a couple of months how much money we’ll actually receive.”

Even though a decision on fund allocation won’t be made until February or March, HSR advocates are working hard to make sure the plans are set well before the funds are received.

Priority routes include the tracks spanning from Merced to Bakersfield and Anaheim to Los Angeles. According to Steva, if all goes as planned and funding is received, the Los Angeles to Anaheim route will begin in 2012 and be completed in November of 2017.

The application to the federal government outlines an allocation of $2.19 billion of the applied $4.7 billion to the track from Los Angeles to Anaheim – the largest amount allocated to any part of the planned track in California.

Short trips, like traveling to Los Angeles, won’t save commuters much money, but it will save them time – covering the distance in about 20 minutes.

The longer the trip, the more time and money riders can expect to save. For example, the 465 mile trip from Anaheim to San Francisco would take three hours and cost $58 dollars while traveling by plane would run around $110 and traveling by car would cost an average of $93.

High Speed Rail is also regarded as more safe and environmentally friendly than other forms of transportation.

The rail will have an independent, double-tracked system that does not cross paths with people or vehicles, translating to a much lower opportunity for collision than cars, planes and traditional trains.

CALPIRG UCI Chapter Chair, Ching-Yun Li, voiced her happiness with the progress on High Speed Rail as well.

“Personally, I think it’s great because of how efficiently we’d be able to travel. It would be quicker, cheaper and nice not to be stuck in traffic,” Li said.

Because of its widespread potential, High Speed Rail has become a big issue on hot-button topics like the economy, unemployment and mobility. The Los Angeles segment alone will create roughly 75,000 jobs in construction and other industries.

“As our population grows, it’s only going to get worse and we can’t just rely on freeway transportation. In particular, Orange County stands to benefit from connecting Irvine to Anaheim and Los Angeles. People will be able to get out of their cars, avoid airport lines and get to where they need to be,” Steva said.

Meetings will be held from 3-7 p.m. in Los Angeles County on Oct. 20, 21, 26, 28, 29 and Nov. 2. These meetings will consider public testimony on the proposed routes between Los Angeles and San Diego. All meetings will be formatted identically. Check the High Speed Rail Web site for detailed location information.