California’s fast future

As California grows into the 21st century, trying to cram a growing population into what seems to be a shrinking state, efficiently moving people from point A to point B will be an ongoing challenge. It’s a challenge that state officials hope high-speed trains will help meet.

At a recent town hall-style meeting, the first of 15 informal gatherings to be conducted throughout California this year, Sacramentans were given a sneak preview of the early planning stages of what California officials hope to be the future of high-speed transportation.

Representatives from the California High-Speed Rail Authority gathered last week with students, Sacramento City Council members and other concerned citizens at Sacramento State University to discuss the proposal for developing a 700-mile-long, high-speed train system.

With a projected increase in California’s population over the next 20 years of about 10 million people, and an increase in intercity automobile trips of about 44 million, the state government is promoting this proposed high-speed rail as a possible solution to the burgeoning congestion already plaguing California.

Yet there are concerns about the plan. Forum attendees asked questions about everything from the inflation of ticket prices if the $25-$33 billion budget balloons, to the sound-pollution created when the high-speed rails are up and running.

Another concern was that building many train stations throughout the state would promote the same urban sprawl it would be seeking to stem. This sort of ambitious project would require the building of many stations throughout the California area at locations within walking distance of desired locales. With that comes the danger of migration from the already heavily populated areas out to suburbs and rural areas.

Apprehension was also voiced at how the airlines and bus unions would take the prospect of increased competition for potential customers. A representative for the high-speed rail program said the airlines would most likely see this proposal as an opportunity to increase its customers, but admitted the program would have to proceed cautiously in dealing with the bus unions.

Roxanne Miller of the Save Our Rail Depot coalition also expressed some trepidation at the possibility that Sacramento’s long-standing station could face an uncertain future under such an ambitious project.

For now, any major policy decisions are at least a couple of years away, but the dialogue has begun, with a formal public comment period beginning in April.

While still a long way off, Californians are looking toward a future that contains the possibility of a cleaner, more efficient transportation system, which could significantly alter the tempo of life in California.