What is California High-Speed Rail?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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California high-speed rail is an ambitious public transportation project approved by California voters in 2008 during the 4 November general election. Proposals for a high-speed rail system in California had been floated since at least 2005, with an acceleration of interest in 2007 which culminated in the voter approval of Proposition 1A, a bond act which approved a money-raising effort for the project. As of 2009, groundbreaking on the California high-speed rail project was expected to start between 2011 and 2012.

When finished, the California high-speed rail line would run from San Francisco to San Diego, connecting a number of major cities including Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento, and Fresno, although the less heavily populated areas of Northern California would not be served by the high-speed rail line. The project also includes substantial funding to regional railway authorities with the goal of improving tracks and expanding capacity so that these railway companies can act as feeders to the California high-speed rail line.


California is one of the most heavily congested states in the United States, with the Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area having especially infamous traffic conditions. By establishing a public transit option which links a number of California cities and commuter communities, state officials hope to reduce traffic congestion, increase safety on the roads, and substantially reduce carbon emissions by getting personal vehicles off the road. The California high-speed rail project is also estimated to save money in the long term by reducing the need to expand California airports, highways, and freeways, and by saving money on policing necessary to control traffic congestion and respond to traffic-related accidents.

Promoters of the project also point out that it can be a substantial source of job creation for California. Workers will be needed to construct tracks and retrofit existing railroad facilities, and the California high-speed rail project will also require staffers ranging from train engineers to maintenance crews once it opens.

California's high-speed rail project is modeled after similar projections in Japan and parts of Europe. These high-speed rail projects have proved to be highly popular among citizens and visitors, who utilize the trains heavily, justifying the expense of investing in high speed rail. The use of grade separation to create dedicated tracks for the trains also ensures that the speed of the trains will not be limited by other trains on the track, and that the California high-speed rail routes will not disrupt existing street grids.

Numerous criticisms of the California high-speed rail project have been made. Some advocates are concerned that the estimated cost of the project is far lower than the actual cost, which could leave the project unfinished if it ran out of funds. Even with assistance from the federal government's economic stimulus plans passed in 2008 and 2009 to deal with the economic unheaval experienced during this period, the California high-speed rail plan would generate substantial debt obligations for the state. Critics are also concerned that ridership predictions will not be fulfilled when the project opens.



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