Value of California high-speed rail project


By David W. Roberts

Mayor, city of Solana Beach

As the vice chair of North County Transit District and someone who is keenly interested in promoting our region’s and state’s future well-being, I thought it was important to share with you my thoughts on one of the state propositions which will be on the ballot this Nov. 4; namely Proposition 1A. A recent poll showed that less than 25 percent of Californians know about Proposition 1A - an initiative to build the first high-speed train system in California.

You might ask: Why should I care about this project? Well, the California High-Speed Rail (CHSR), which would reach speeds of 220 mph in certain portions of the state, would connect the state’s major metropolitan areas from San Diego to Sacramento. A trip from San Diego to Los Angeles would take just over one hour and passengers traveling to San Francisco could arrive in 3 1/2 hours. While this project has been a buzzword for several decades, it was in 1996 that Governor Pete Wilson’s administration established the California High-Speed Rail Authority to oversee the research and planning of a statewide high-speed rail system. The project was ready for voter consideration in 2004; however, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chose to postpone the bond measure and removed it from the ballot. Having finally realized the importance of public transportation for California’s future, the governor has now officially endorsed the high-speed rail project and is giving voters the chance to decide its fate. So why here and why now?

With over a dozen countries currently running or in the process of building a high-speed train network, the CHSR is not new or experimental technology. Japan has had high-speed trains for over 40 years during which time there has never been a single passenger fatality. Its trains are always punctual and if delayed they are never more than a few seconds late. Train travel is generally the safest and most efficient form of transportation available and in this case, with tracks dedicated solely to passenger trains, the high-speed rail will be even more secure.

At nearly 36 million people, California is the nation’s most populous state and its population grows rapidly every year. At a time of economic hardship and environmental concern, the CHSR offers many solutions. Construction and maintenance of the rail system will bring over 450,000 permanent jobs to our residents. Estimated to carry 117 million passengers by the year 2030 and utilizing just one-third the energy of airplanes and one-fifth that of automobiles, the CHSR will save Californians a projected 22 million barrels of oil annually. If you ever ride the Coaster or take Amtrak up to Los Angeles, you would have noticed that we Californians are riding trains in greater numbers than ever before. In fact, California is home to three of Amtrak’s top five busiest routes in the country. And Solana Beach is the 23rd busiest Amtrak station in the nation.

By passing Proposition 1A, voters agree to provide $9 billion towards initial funding and construction of the rail system. However, the entire project is expected to cost $42 billion. The question then becomes: Where does the rest of the money come from? A federal high-speed rail initiative will provide one-third of the funds needed to build the project and the rest will come from private capital. In June, the Authority published a report showing strong levels of interest from many private investors including Goldman Sachs, Alstom, and SNCF (French National Railway Company). Even with the economy on the skids right now, a visionary project such as high-speed rail is the right project at the right time.

As you consider the benefits and disadvantages of Proposition 1A, I encourage you to explore the many resources available online. A Solana Beach local, Marietta Synodis, has devoted the last 16 months of her life to researching this great project and has developed a Website - that provides an extensive overview of the rail system. She helped me author my column this week, for which I am very grateful. If you would like to contact me directly with your opinion about this or any other issues in our region, please just drop me a line at