By Noel T. Braymer
Much of what is written in the media about the California High Speed Rail Project is negative. There is often political partisanship behind this criticism. Also the media likes to dramatize a story by playing up possible problems or conflicts to boost readership. What is often lost is a realistic view of what High Speed Rail service and improved transportation can mean to a region. Very little reporting in this Country looks at what is happening with rail service in other parts of the world. To believe the small number of often repeated High Speed Rail critics, it sounds like High Speed Rail will be a bottomless pit of spending, bankrupting California and its future generations with a mountain of debt. But these critics seem unable to point to any country which now regrets building High Speed Rail service and now face ruin. The reason for this is there are no countries which regret having High Speed Passenger service in their country.
High Speed Rail projects have been built around the world and many new projects are being proposed. There is Spain which has roughly the same population as California. But Spain’s economy is poorer than California’s and it took a major hit in 2008 as did much of the world with the great recession. Despite this setback, Spain continued building High Speed Rail. Taiwan, which is an island nation, spent billions building what could be called a gold plated High Speed Rail service. The High Speed Rail project in Taiwan has struggled with high, over budget construction costs and needed fiscal reorganization to keep going. But it is now established as a major part of the island’s transportation infrastructure. There is no talk of shutting it down in Taiwan.
The main problem critics of High Speed Rail have is they don’t want to spend money on any infrastructure. We can see what this mentality is doing to this country. During and after World War II, this country had an explosion of infrastructure construction which lasted until the early 1970’s. We now have bridges, roads, freeways, schools, water systems, sewage systems, oil and natural gas pipelines built before 1980 that are now not being properly maintained and are often falling apart. Even if they are still in use, they are often overused and overloaded. There are many estimates of the cost to people from vehicle damage because of badly maintained roads or time lost and money wasted stuck in traffic. With poorly maintained infrastructure often comes a sluggish economy. What business would wants to set up shop in a rust belt, when they can have new and shiny places to work with good services someplace else? Who would want to live in a rust belt, if they had a choice to move someplace else?
Recently the English edition of a German Business Website “Handelsblatt Global “ wrote this about California’s High Speed Rail project and the choice by it to bring in German railroad Deutsche Bahn to manage planning for initial passenger service between San Jose and the San Joaquin Valley. “It is up to the German planners to work out the details. DB Consultants will draw up the timetables, plan the operation and the running of the train fleet. They will also propose a pricing system and come up with a marketing concept.” “It’s a successful entry into the US market,” the head of Deutsche Bahn’s consulting unit, Niko Warbanoff, told Handelsblatt.” … “Mr. Warbanoff’s 4,300-strong workforce specializes in planning, either for parent company Deutsche Bahn, or abroad in Gulf States and elsewhere in Asia. They are accustomed to the unpredictability of megaprojects such as the Californian high-speed rail venture, which has been a rollercoaster ride since its launch in 2008.”..“The US market is interesting for railway companies despite the country’s reliance on air travel and highways. The country has 225,000 kilometers of train track, giving it the world’s biggest railway network, bigger even than Russia’s or China’s. But the Americans have little experience with high-speed trains.”.. “Railway companies are extremely keen on getting a piece of the project not just because of the scale of the order but also due to the prestige attached to running America’s first high-speed train line.
Winning this contract gives Deutsche Bahn a head start to be given the job to operate the start up High Speed Rail service in California. They will be expected to operate these future trains at a profit and pay the State of California for using the tracks and stations. Winning a $30 million dollar contract to help plan this wasn’t the motivation of the railroads that competed for this contract. The California High Speed Rail contract won by Deutsche Bahn had a lot of competition from 3 other international bidders. Award of this contract was delayed by a month after the close second placed bidder, Spanish railroad RENFE, contested the contact award. These operators are well aware of the ups and downs of financing and building major rail projects. But they can see a massive under served transportation market in the United States, with California’s the biggest prize of all. All 4 bidders wanted to be first to get into the California transportation market with High Speed Rail.
The United States seems to go in cycles between international isolation and leadership. Right now the United States is the only county in the world opposing efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions. If nothing else, the improving economics of renewable energy is already hastening the reduction of the use of fossil fuels which are a major source of greenhouse gases. Current policies of the United States, which are not universally accepted even in this county are trying to restrict the use in this country of renewable energy and of saving energy. The result of these policies will leave this country isolated from most of the rest of this world. California is the leader opposing the current policies to kill renewable energy and improvements to transportation in this country. No doubt this will go a long way in gaining support for California worldwide in its efforts to use more economical renewable energy and upgrade its transportation infrastructure including High Speed Rail.