The Science of Sustainability

Reporter's Notes: Fast Trains

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Credit: California High Speed Rail AuthorityThe devil's in the details, so the details aren't entirely in the proposition. There are still many open questions about Prop. 1A on the November ballot, the proposal to bring high speed rail to California – and that makes sense, since there are a billion details, many of them contentious, in any $9.95 billion initiative and $45 billion project.

One of those outstanding questions is: Where will the train go?

In the Bay Area, that has been a huge issue. There are two proposed routes (check out an interactive map here) — one through the East Bay and the Altamont Corridor toward Sacramento, and the "preferred alternative," which runs down the Peninsula, through San Jose, Gilroy and the Pacheco Pass, and then loops back around to Sacramento.

Some rail advocates filed a lawsuit, pushing the state to do more study, particularly environmental study. The Pacheco Pass route cuts through some pristine landscape, and that worries environmentalists. And the Altamont route runs through some of the heaviest traffic corridors in the Bay Area, so a high speed train could relieve some of the East Bay's congestion. In addition, the Peninsula communities of Menlo Park and Atherton joined the lawsuit, because they're concerned about the potential of massive above-the-street construction there.

The Rail Authority says it's working with communities to answer their concerns. For instance, it's possible that some of the high speed rail stations could go below ground on the Peninsula — and that they hope to build BOTH routes eventually. Right now, they say, the Pacheco Pass route is preferred, but they point out that it's a long way till the tracks go down and the train starts running, and there will be a lot to work out over the next decade.


Listen to the Fast Trains radio report online.

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Category: Engineering, Environment, Radio

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About the Author ()

David Gorn is the former Deputy News Director of KQED Radio, and currently works as a freelancer for National Public Radio. He has worked for three daily Bay Area newspapers, has been Editor-in-Chief of several magazines, and has taught journalism at San Jose State University and San Francisco State University.
  • Fumio Ishii

    I grew up in the Bay Area, and what frustrated me about living in California is the limited choice of transportation. The quickest way to travel from SF to LA is by air, but you constantly have to go through delays. If you are lucky the flight will arrive on time. Then your other choice is by car, but why would anyone drive for 6-8 hours. It's a waste of gas and time…

    When I moved to Tokyo, my company ask me to take a business trip to Osaka. That is about the equivalent distance from SF-LA. You could fly, but the airport to downtown is not that close. I took the Shinkansen, which took me less than 3 hours. It was very comfortable and it never delays. Shinkansen is on time almost 90% of the time and far more comfortable than air travel. Plus the station is located in the center of the city. Something you can never do on air travel. 40 years ago, Japanese government realize that they had to do something about the growing population. Their highways were very narrow and it was impossible to expand it. The airport is too small, and too busy to handle people traveling from Tokyo to Osaka. They decided to build the Bullet train and solved the problem. Japan does not have a land to build an airport like LAX or SFO, so Shinkansen was a success. Even more ironic, the Shinkansen cost much more than flying from Tokyo to Osaka, but more people will rather take the Shinkansen then JAL or ANA. Ever since that huge accident by Japan Airlines in 1985, more people realize that Shinkansen is much safer since it has never been in a major accident since 1964..

    I wish California had something like Shinkansen, because I don't like to drive such long distance and building a larger highway is not the answer. Unless you want to drive over 200mph without getting pulled over. Oakland and SFO is getting way to crowded and I never heard of a plane arriving on time.

    Look at Europe with TGV and ICE, Airline companies don't want to fly short distance because it's not profitable. Majority of the Airline companies are no longer flying short distance since TGV and ICE were made.

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