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Editorial: Argument for High-Speed Rail? Or Amtrak?

Maybe they're making a better case for Amtrak rather than high-speed rail without even realizing it.

Aug 21, 2012

The editorial below is from the Bakersfield Californian and appears to make the case that because Amtrak is doing so well in the Northeast, it makes sense to proceed with high-speed rail here in California. But, maybe they're making a better case for Amtrak rather than high-speed rail without even realizing it. A letter to the editor below the editorial makes the case.

Train hot ticket in Northeast; why not here?

By The Bakersfield Californian

Amtrak has become the hottest transportation ticket in the U.S. Northeast. Huge numbers of commuters are shunning the hassles of airport security and high plane fares in favor of a cheaper, more relaxing commute. Amtrak says that 75 percent of travelers between Washington, D.C., and New York City now take the train. That's up from just over a third of all travelers in 2000, an incredible leap.
Could Amtrak's stunning rise in the nation's northeastern corridor help make an argument for high-speed rail's potential here in California? There's good reason to think so.

Amtrak introduced the Acela Express, which runs from Washington, D.C., to Boston with stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, traveling at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, in 2000. Today, The New York Times reports, Acela tickets are cheaper than airline fare for the same routes. Acela's travel times are longer, of course: The D.C.-to-New York trip, forexample, is one hour and 15 minutes by plane vs. two hours and 45 minutes by train. But when other aspects of air travel are factored in -- time and cost to get to the airport, check-in time, weather delays, runway clearance -- along with the fact that train riders can plug in cellphones, access free Wi-Fi and get more work done, commuters eagerly express a preference for the train. The Acela Express is actually profitable -- something Amtrak has not often been able to boast.

Before California's high-speed rail became bogged down in squabbles over farmland, route revisions and wild cost fluctuations, it was envisioned to be a transformative, modern solution to link the populations and economies of the state's major cities. The story of the rise of the Acela Express shows there's plenty of reason to believe that's still possible. The highly compact Northeast is very different from California's vast stretches of emptiness, but the same train-vs.-plane comparisons apply.

Letter to Editor:

You just made the argument that Save Bakersfield Committee has been making - that improvement in existing Amtrak service and a service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles is much more desirable, and can be made at a fraction of a cost, compared to $100 billion boondoggle of high-speed rail. The existing Amtrak service northward from Bakersfield can be improved for a fraction of a cost of the high-speed rail. The improved Amtrak may take a few more minutes to reach from LA to San Francisco or Sacramento, but it will be much more affordable both for the State and the passengers.

An express Amtrak service will not destroy valuable property and farmland; will not have 80 feet high viaducts over the city of Bakersfield, will not displace and destroy a number of businesses, will still provide service to smaller communities, and still will allow Bakersfield to become a major transportation hub between Northern and Southern California.
By the time it is done - if it is completed - the high-speed rail will end up costing $200 billion to few remaining taxpayers of California. The service on that debt alone will cost over a billion dollars annually assuming that the interest rates will remain low at current levels. That is the last thing California needs now.

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