While we in the San Joaquin Valley remain highly puzzled and not just a little disturbed that the state and the federal governments would want to spend billions building a high-speed track to nowhere through here, transit fans in the Bay Area and Los Angeles are doing something that’s practical.
In the Bay Area, transit supporters have cobbled together $1 billion of federal, state and local money to extend Bay Area Rapid Transit into Santa Clara County, to fulfill a dream of circling San Francisco Bay with rail rapid transit.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, transit officials have just completed an expansion of their light-rail system, and more is in the works. It will keep growing with the city.
While these rail systems technically aren’t of the high-speed rail variety, they are extremely practical in that they solve the problems of moving people about quickly in crowded areas.
Light rail systems work best where there are a lot of people.
That certainly isn’t the case in the Valley, which would be able to provide little in the way of ridership for a high-speed rail system.
In the Valley, we already have the services of Amtrak, and more people are using those trains all the time. Train experts know there are three things that could be done to improve Amtrak for about $96 billion less than the $98 billion anticipated cost of high-speed rail.
First would be to improve the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe tracks that carry Amtrak trains; second would be to extend tracks from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and Stockton to Sacramento, routes which now are served by bus connections; and third would be to run more trains.
Amtrak carried a million people through the Valley last year. With those upgrades, it could carry twice as many.