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High-speed Rail is Coming to California!

Feb 01, 2010 by Sean Belk

Imagine hopping on a High-Speed Train from Los Angeles, and dining in a hot, trendy restaurant in San Francisco, within a couple of hours. No fuss, muss, or hassle. You just purchase your ticket and off you go. With time to spare, you can return home at a reasonable time to watch your favorite television show.

Well imagine no more, High-Speed Rail Lines are coming to California!

What is High-Speed Rail?

The exact definition of high-speed rail has changed since it was first introduced.

While some prefer to explain it simply as high-speed by peak speed of 200 miles per hour, the Federal Railroad Administration, in its 1997 report, defined high-speed rail as:

“A service that is superior from a time-competitive stand point than air and/or auto on a door-to-door basis.”

Currently, there’s only one high-speed rail that’s operational in the United States–the Acela Express. Its “Northeast Corridor” route reaches speeds up to 140 miles per hour, covering cities including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

Magnetic levitation trains, which are popular in Japan, tend to be categorized as a different system entirely, since they don’t run on a track at all.

Imagine a brand new High-Speed Rail Line from San Diego to Sacramento, swiftly traveling from Orange County to the Golden Gates of San Francisco, in just about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

High Speed Rail Corridor Destinations

Most people would jump at the chance to easily traverse to and from the northern and southern regions of California without the long-drive, bumper-to-bumper traffic, bus stops, or the high cost and hassles of taking a plane.

Well, that long awaited dream should now be a lot closer to becoming a reality sooner than later– in the form of high-speed-rail.

As an economical and environmentally friendly means of travel, high-speed rail transportation is the latest industry to receive a whole host of support and investment, with California and Florida the first states to be given funding and grants.

Government officials hope these transportation plans will bring an economic boost and job prosperity throughout the country, particularly for our financially burdened and heavily unemployed Golden State.

California receives 2.3 Billion for High Speed Rail

It was just announced a couple of days ago, that California will receive $2.3 billion in Federal Stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to build an electrically-powered high-speed rail system that would span 800 miles, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

California High Speed Rail is coming

The trains will reach speeds up to 220 miles per hour, and would touchdown in major population centers, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has lauded the funding proposal along with President Barack Obama during his recent State of the Union Address.

Designed for maximum efficiency and speed, the new high-speed rail trains will have fewer stops than usual trains and light rail, and should be a boon for business, consumer, tourist, and everyday travelers.

Currently, ridership on railway corridors throughout California is around 5.5 million riders per day.

A majority of the funding, about $2.25 billion, will go to purchase right-of-ways, complete environmental studies, and build track and rail stations.


The first phase of this newly proposed high-speed transportation system encompasses 520 miles, and will be finished by 2020. With extensions both further north and south, it will be completed by 2026. Combined, they’re expected to carry more than 300 trains per day.

How Property Owners will be affected

In order to complete the project over the next few years, it requires right-of-way purchases to create enough space for the new rail lines. And that means that it also comes with a price—purchasing personal and commercial properties for those right-of-ways as it’s not public land.

As the rail lines are currently being measured by cartographers and surveyors for mapping requirements, the California High Speed Rail Authority aka the “Rail Authority,” will notify all affected property owners of how much land they’ll need. The process of purchase and relocation is required before construction begins.

Accordingly, the Rail Authority issued this statement:

“A person’s private property rights are protected by the federal and state constitutions and applicable federal and state laws,”… “However, if the owner and the Rail Authority cannot agree on the terms of sale, the Rail Authority may initiate the eminent domain process to avoid delaying the project, and may eventually be required to initiate condemnation proceedings.”

Wow, that looks fast

For those attuned to recent New York and the Federal Supreme Court decisions regarding Eminent Domain, you can brush up on their recent decisions here.

Why High-Speed Rail is a "Green" Transportation Alternative

Although high-speed rail systems may burn through large amounts of energy–whether electrically powered or a combination of diesel fuel–rail transportation in general, tremendously cuts down on Green House Gas emissions, especially when compared to cars and airplane transportation.

According to the California Rail Authority, high-speed trains will “eliminate over 12 billion pounds of emissions, equivalent to removing more than one million vehicles from the roads annually,” which some claim is linked to climate change. So real or perceived, we’ll reduce annual carbon emissions and the number of cars on the road. If sustained over a long period of time, both can be massively reduced by using the following ratios and rates:

High-speed trains use 1/3 the energy of air travel, and 1/5 the energy of auto travel. Using more high-speed rail trains will concomitantly reduce our nation’s dependency on foreign oil. By building additional high-speed rail lines throughout the country, this could potentially result in an annual reduction of 6 billion pounds of CO2, according to the California Rail Authority.

How high-speed Rail will bring more jobs to California

Job creation is expected to start almost immediately, as a first step in turning around the state’s 12.4 percent unemployment rate. The High-Speed Rail construction has a pre-planning phase, before its construction and management components. The critical path node for starting the construction phase of High-Speed Rails in California is set to begin as early as 2011. That’s only a year away.


A major portion of immediate jobs will come from the process of upgrading and enhancing California’s three existing intercity passenger rail routes.

For instance, a $171 million loan has been approved by the US Department of Transportation to build the Transbay Transit Center,

Located in San Francisco, over the course of the next four years, the Transbay Transit Center, is expected to create upwards of 48,000 new jobs. Of those new jobs, about 8,000 are expected to be created immediately. The upgraded routes built here will end up connecting to the Statewide network of new high-speed systems.

High-Speed Rail Lines, a new paradigm for California and the Nation

Not too long ago, High-Speed Rail seemed more hope than vision. Now, it’s much more than both, and it’s only a matter of time before a High-Speed Rail station comes to a city near you. It’s currently a reality that will dovetail into a much larger, long-range planning commitment for California to create statewide regional rail networks.

Sean Belk maintains his own news blog “Eye On Ecology” at

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