By Kendyl Brower
The majority of teens race to the DMV once they turn 16, hoping to secure their newly gained freedom on the road. And why wouldn’t you be stoked to get your license? Individualist notions are woven into our American culture: I am entitled to my own property, my own house, my own car. With our love for independence, a public high-speed train may seem off the rails. Opponents argue that such infrastructure only works in interconnected, densely populated countries like Japan, which utilizes the Shinkansen for public transportation. Despite our individualistic tendencies and extensive suburbs, I believe the United States’ implementation of efficient mass transit is not only plausible, but can drastically change the country for the better. California’s project is on the right track; a high-speed railroad, or HSR, betters the environment, provides a safe and affordable travel alternative, and boosts productivity.
Transportation Culture and the Suburban Sprawl
Many Americans live in suburbs, not closely intertwined communities such as those seen in Europe and Asia. This presents a density issue: would the sheer vastness of the country limit the attractiveness of a HSR system? Many citizens would have to counterintuitively drive to the station prior to using the train. However, I believe that the goal of a HSR focuses more on connecting large cities, not suburbs. The California HSR will connect 6 out of the 10 largest cities in the state. Advanced local lightrails and buses can better address the needs of smaller communities. A successful HSR combines adequate public transportation in the suburbs and the rail itself in larger towns. Additionally, to address the suburban dilemma, the California HSR authority allocates $10 million to create thriving station area districts and communities at each stop.
Furthermore, just because current public transportation culture lacks mass support does not imply it will remain unpopular. The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit system) opened in 1972 with relatively low ridership. However, “over time, BART has become an economic backbone for the region and ridership has more than tripled since then,” mentions transportation consultant Stuart Cohen. Clearly, American culture is always changing, the development of an HSR system may bring many more citizens “on board” with the idea overtime. As well, over 11.5 million Calfornians used the railroad service Amtrak in 2019; railroads are not a dying industry, they are just one with a lack of modernity. By adapting to current needs, mass transit such as the California HSR can revitalize the industry with efficiency.
A Low-carbon Locomotive
In California, transportation produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, with passenger vehicles accounting for 28% of emissions (CA.gov). Thus, in order to reduce California’s carbon footprint, we must address transportation. Luckily, the California HSR will run on 100% renewable sources by using energy efficient electrified trains. According to Elizabeth Deakin, a professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, the California HSR will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 billion pounds per year. Moreover, it will improve air quality and reduce dependence on foreign oil by 12.7 million barrels per year. Adding onto the list of benefits, the International Association of Railways states that HSRs are 8 times more energy efficient than airplanes and 4 times more than automobiles— this means positive environmental and macroeconomic impacts. Despite a plethora of environmental benefits, concerned opponents still worry about construction pollution. To alleviate these concerns, the rail ties contractors to various environmental contracts, making construction site emissions 60% lower than the state average. Evidently, a HSR in California provides an opportunity for environmentally friendly transportation, an area in need of innovative solutions.
An Affordable, Safe Alternative
In addition to the eco-friendliness of HSRs, the transit offers an alternate, safe route for California residents. California struggles with congestion in major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Deakin notes The California HSR will relieve gridlock, create faster travel between metropolitan areas, and improve the movement of people, goods, and services. Furthermore, the fare is predicted to be relatively cheap at around $86 to go from LA to SF in just 2 hours and 40 minutes, providing a quick, budget-friendly travel option for residents.
The CA train also aims to enhance public safety. The National Safety Council notes that “for every mile traveled, car drivers and passengers are more than 10 times as likely to die in accidents” than rail riders. In Japan and France, there has yet to be a single death from high speed rails which have been operating for over 30 years in both countries. The rail proves to be one of the safest modes of transportation. Thus, HSRs offer an affordable, greener, and safer alternative to planes or cars.
In the US, congestion on roads costs $87 billion in lost productivity according to the analytical company INRIX. A HSR reduces congestion with efficient, speedy travel, making communities more productive. As well, California’s rail project would offer up to 100,000 construction jobs as a result of HSR economic growth (Deakin). Moreover, the California rail can quickly transport millions of citizens to cities with more job opportunities. The HSR not only increases productivity, but it provides thousands of citizens with jobs.
“My administration will spark the second great railroad revolution to propel our nation’s infrastructure into the future and help solve the climate emergency,” declares President Joe Biden. More and more Americans are ready for a rail renaissance as climate change and irritating traffic issues continue to grow. Though many presidents strived to address new public transportation needs, few have made any significant change in recent years. However, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that recently passed the Senate may just be what propels the HSR system from outline to actuality. Though it may be a daunting, lengthy, and expensive process, the construction of HSRs are a golden opportunity for change in America. Though I wish politicians devoted more time and energy into the project (it has been 13 years since the CA proposal!), I am optimistic about California’s HSR, and I hope to see other states following in CA’s footsteps. I advise you to get on board with the rail, it is the future of efficient travel in America.