It will not increase California’s gross state product over the next 12 months. Nor will it create 100,000 – or 10,000 or even as few as 1,000 – new jobs by this time next year.
Yet, of all the federal stimulus grants and awards California has received to date, none will contribute more to the state’s long-term economic growth than the $194 million it received yesterday to chug ahead with what state officials hope will be the nation’s first full blown high speed rail system.
The welcome gift from Washington, which the state will match dollar-for-dollar, will give the California High Speed Rail Authority the funds it needs to complete an environmental review of the first stretch of the 800-mile network.
The biggest public works project in California history will cost $45 billion, with the first year of operation in 2020. The High Speed Rail Authority estimates the rail system’s construction will generate 160,000 jobs, with some 450,000 permanent jobs created once the system is fully built out.
As envisioned, California’s modern high speed trains will race along at 220 miles per hour, connecting the Golden State’s major metropolitan areas, from Sacramento to San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego.
What that means is that a commute from, say, San Diego to Los Angeles, which current takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, will take only 1 hour and 11 minutes. A trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento, which currently takes 7 hours and 40 minutes, will take only 2 hours and 11 minutes.
The promise of those kind of high speed intercity commutes will do much to get California residents off the state’s all-too-congested freeways, out of its all-too-crowded airports and onto the railway. Indeed, the state High Speed Rail Authority projects that ridership will grow from 13.5 million riders in 2020 to 41 million by 2035.
The growth in high speed rail ridership also will yield environmental dividends in a state that aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and curb its energy consumption.
That’s because California's electrically-propelled., high speed trains will use one-sixth the energy of cars in traffic and one fourth the energy of airplanes, according to the state High Speed Rail Authority. They also will reduce CO2 emissions by 12.4 billion pounds per year versus highway and air travel.
California is the world’s eighth largest economy. It should have a world class transportation network, including a modern high speed rail system.