Hope for the high-speed rail

by April Beyersdorf (’24) | March 31, 2023

Art by Marisea Fisher (‘24)

Commuting from the Bay Area to Los Angeles either means a very long drive or a very short flight. The highways and airports are both a hassle, and few Californians regularly travel between the two regions. However, in the San Joaquin Valley, a third travel option is under construction, with the potential to change transportation in California forever.

California High-Speed Rail was proposed in 1996 and approved by voters in 2008. When completed, it will be the fastest railway system in America, reaching speeds of 220 miles per hour; the total travel time between the Financial District of San Francisco and Downtown Los Angeles will be 2 hours and 40 minutes. The fully electrified system will help our state combat climate change and will also open up numerous sites to develop housing in the Central Valley to fight homelessness.

However, since construction began, the project has been swarmed by critics. Recently, New York Times writer Ralph Vartabedian shamed the project for using a route through the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert instead of following Highway 101 along the coast. He argued that it would be too expensive and would increase travel times to the point that high-speed rail would be rendered as effective as automobile travel. But while the San Joaquin Valley route option is geographically longer, its flatter terrain would allow the trains to travel faster and connect developing cities like Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced to the job centers of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

A notable voice critiquing the project came from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who proposed a wildly impractical alternative in 2013: a vacuum-sealed tube that would whisk cars along Interstate 5 without air resistance. This system, dubbed the “Hyperloop,” has proved impractical with current technology, but Musk has admitted to biographer Ashlee Vance that he never intended for the system to be completed. An outspoken hater of public transportation, it’s possible that Musk only wanted to see the high-speed rail project replaced with a less practical alternative that would be more likely to fail. This would potentially allow Tesla to sell cars to anyone regularly traveling between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Fortunately, the Hyperloop fell short of canceling the high-speed rail project, and construction forges on today.

Despite the negative attention, the high-speed rail’s benefits outweigh its costs. No high construction costs or new inventions will make this project any less important to the state of California. It must be completed right regardless of time and cost so that forty million people can be saved from the earth-killing traffic and enjoy the clean convenience of high-speed rail. Even if it takes fifteen more years before the first high-speed train travels from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it will have been worth every second of construction.

Categories: Opinions

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