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In California, the high-speed rail debate heats up

In California, the high-speed rail debate heats up

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Two separate studies draw two different conclusions about the viability of high-speed rail in the Golden State.

California is a state slated for extremely ambitious high-speed rail development. However, the state is also a raucous one, with many different and vocal interest groups. So it's no surprise that the debate on the viability of bullet trains within the Golden State has begun to heat up in a big way.

First, there was a report from the CALPIRG advocacy group that pointed to the gains seen from other high-speed rail networks seen around the world, and posits the state could see similar benefits.

But then, at almost the same time, the University of California Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies released a report suggesting that high-speed rail may not be such a good thing. (Thanks to Robert Cruikshank at the California High-Speed Rail Blog for the pointers to these two reports.)

For its part, CALPIRG points out that "high-speed rail systems in other nations have dramatically reduced air travel and significantly reduced intercity car travel." According to the report, California could likewise see a reduction in congestion on the roads and at airports.

Transit projects create jobs, and there are also benefits in terms of reduced reliance on gas consumption and reduced dependence on oil.

The Berkeley report calls into question a prior, optimistic consultant's report that projects demand for high-speed rail in the Bay Area.

In the wake of this report, a group of municipalities -- the Peninsula Cities Consortium, which consists of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont -- is calling for a re-evaluation of high-speed rail plans in their area.

"High speed rail should be built right or not at all," PCC said in a statement. "By 'right,' we mean that the rail line should integrate into our communities without harming their current livability. The best design and community values, rather than finances, should determine the alignment."

Photo: California High-Speed Rail Authority

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure