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High-Speed Rail: Let’s Think Big Again!

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Training Day: The author at an Alta Velocidad Española track.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel a bit in Europe and there are a few things I have taken away from my journeys. There seems to more of an enjoyment of the simple things in life over there. Whether it is a having a nice meal or taking a long paid vacation (anywhere from four to eight weeks) every year, people don’t seem as neck-deep in the rat race as we are here in the States.

The European perspective on what’s important also translates into a deep appreciation for long-term planning. I especially noticed this when I found myself looking at one of the thousand­-year-old cathedrals that seem to be in every city.  A more modern example of how planning is embraced in Europe is its efficient transportation — which made me think of how much we need high-speed rail here in California.

Anyone reading this blog who lives in L.A. knows how we all love — and also hate — our cars. They are the second home or office for a lot of people. Most of the people I know drive about two hours to get to work and back. “My conclusion, to put it in formal transportation terminology, is that Los Angeles traffic really, really sucks,” says transportation expert Eric A. Morris in a recent Freakonomics.com article.

But let’s get back to the trains . . . My wife and I had a great time on a trip to Spain last year when we traveled from one end of the country to the other, stopping at six different cities.  We did not have to drive a car once in two weeks! How was this possible? It’s easy: Spain has a great high-speed rail system. It connects most of the major cities in the country and you can buy tickets the same day you want to travel. A trip from Barcelona to Valencia, about 227 miles, cost $81 — not dirt cheap but still less than most airfares that cover the same distance.

You might find yourself asking, if Spain has such a great system why don’t we have one here in California? That would mean that my powers of persuasion are already working, so let’s go with it. Is it because there is no money here? No, it can’t be that, since the GDP of California alone comes in higher than that of Spain at $1.9 trillion. No, the money is there if we gather together state, federal and local resources.

What we need is the political will to follow through with it. Despite the politics and cost of the previous high-speed rail plan, I think we still could have an amazing new mode of transportation across our state. California is a place for winners with big ideas and big dreams. The fact that the project could create so many Californian jobs — 600,000 construction-related jobs and 4,020 permanent jobs — means that we need to be diligently demanding that our elected officials execute a well-designed, cost- effective high-speed rail plan that will bring prosperity and increased mobility for all.

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