I’ve been obsessed with high-speed rail for a couple of months now. It started in March when I was in France and had my first experience on the TGV trains that zip between Paris and Lyon in less than two hours, about a third of the time it takes by car. The ease with which I stepped onto the train made my airport experiences seem like torturous tests of my capacity to endure long lines, inexplicable delays, nosy cops, bureaucratic madness, and fellow travelers made cranky by it all.
As the French countryside flew past me at 200 mph, I wondered why California has been unable to build a high-speed train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, cities quite similar to Paris and Lyon in terms of distance and cultural importance. So I researched the issue and learned that the single biggest obstacle is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as I reported recently in "The Silver Bullet Train" (4/18/07), a story that the San Diego CityBeat then ran as its cover article in its last issue.
So I was intrigued to hear what Schwarzenegger had to say on the subject last week when he came to speak in a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. auditorium for an event sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. When asked about it, the governor said, "I’m a big believer in mass transit. I’m a big believer in high-speed rail. I think this high-speed rail is a great possibility, but I want us working on the public participation private partnerships then we can commit to the $10 billion to put in from the public sector."
Which, of course, is complete bullshit. The governor’s budget made big cuts in mass-transit spending, including chopping $28 million from BART and $36 million from Muni. And it proposed gutting the California High Speed Rail Authority, which has long planned for the need for private-sector funding support that Schwarzenegger claims will preclude next year’s $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure. Those who know the issue know how ridiculous the governor sounds.
"Based upon your encouragement, we have prepared the financing plan. If your support for an appropriate level of funding in 2007<\d>08 is contingent upon securing specific commitments of funding from various public and private entities, you are the logical leader who can bring together California Congressional leaders and private financiers," CHSRA chair Quentin Kopp wrote to Schwarzenegger on May 25.
And still Schwarzenegger does nothing to support the project, which the downtown think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) makes the focus of its June newsletter under the headline "High Speed Rail Essential to Keep California on Track: Trains Offer Best Bet for Fast, Clean Transport as State Grows."
It’s time for Schwarzenegger’s deeds to start matching his words, particularly on this crucial project.*