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VISION: Can a New High-Speed Rail System Save the American Dream?

America is looking for answers and solutions, and it may have found a good one in the form of an ambitious national high-speed rail network.

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"Governor Brown was very vocal that he wants to see the project move along quickly," Wall said. "But people know that investing in infrastructure is good way to get the economy moving again."

Sharing Is Caring

For their part, California's high-speed trains are going to be moving well over 200 miles an hour, which is why most of them couldn't be simply plopped atop the state's current train rail network, some of it over a century old. But although new track has to be laid, some of it is going to share space and perhaps track with the existing rail network to intersect with major transit centers. Currently, Anaheim and CHSRA are studying the possibility of a shared track system, and other densely populated areas are interested as well.

Further, CHSRA has worked with state and local businesses and residences to stay within existing transportation corridors, in some places reducing tracks 60-80 feet wide to minimize impact. But CHSRA's goal isn't to replace trains, but supplement them, and divert much-needed clean energy back to the public where it belongs.

"We're not building an Amtrak," Wall said. "We're competing with airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, although both have said that the high-speed rail will allow them to have more long-distance flights, which is economically better for them. Our travel time from Los Angeles to San Francisco is going to be two hours and 40 minutes, with stops. Anyone who has traveled that route knows that driving or flying takes longer. And instead of polluting the route, we're working with 22 agencies to make sure we can put energy back into the grid."

In the final analysis, California's high-speed rail project is a net win on fronts that truly matter. It may not make Republicans happy enough to stop becoming senseless obstructionists. It might not even soothe state Democrats like Cardoza, who claim to work for energy independence while overlooking one of the most ambitious alternative energy projects in California history. But if it is supported and realized, California's high-speed rail network could renew the state's economy, mobility and ingenuity, summarily setting it apart from lesser states with charades that pass for political and environmental leadership. That is, until those lesser states inevitably come to their senses.

"This will be a competitive, attractive option for Californians to become more mobile, not less," Wall concluded. "Infrastructure improves economies, but it does require patience. We have a lot of work to do in the next year and a half, so it's important that we keep momentum. Because the benefits will be felt by the entire state, and even outside California, once other states develop rail projects of their own."

Wake Up, Time to Ride

Once other states wake up and jump on board California's sustainable futurism, the nation's nightmarish transportation system, and its highly unsustainable and unstable consumption and waste, could at last come to an end. But linking up regional rail infrastructure into a sprawling network spanning the entire country is still a mammoth task. Which is why it deserves far greater attention than it is currently receiving, said Kunz.

"The fact that it is not a day-to-day topic in the White House and Congress is actually very alarming," he explained. "Some of them even look at energy policy as entirely separate from transportation, despite the fact that they're so interlinked. But our transportation habits are exactly why we need 20 millions barrels of oil a day, and that's going to be hard to get, starting now."

When you crunch the numbers, what is obvious is that 2015 is just a shot away. And 2030, too, is closer than we think, given the exponential acceleration of our economic and environmental problems. Predictably, 2010 was the hottest year on Earth since global temperature records commenced in 1850, and subsequent years are sure to break that destabilizing record. The American economy sucks for everyone but the rich, and the real-estate ATMs are closed forever. National unemployment is mired around 10 percent, and that's not counting the millions who are no longer looking for work, because there isn't really any to find. Domestic terrorists are openly attempting (and succeeding) to assassinate politicians and judges in the street, while what passes for the mainstream media, owned by the most wasteful corporations on the planet, are diverting the public's attention onto lesser matters and discourse. In short, we're screwing ourselves.

 
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