Proponents of California’s proposed high-speed rail project envision a high-speed rail network connecting Sacramento, San Francisco, Central Valley, Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire and San Diego. However, there are many obstacles, real or imagined, that could delay or derail the project. First, the House Subcommittee on Transportation voted to fund only $1.4 billion for high-speed rail in FY 2011, compared to the $4 billion they approved last year. The project appears to be plagued by unreliable cost, ridership and revenue projections, uncertainty about private investment and, given the State of California’s finances, the possibility that taxpayers may have to subsidize the project if revenue projections are not met. A high-speed rail system would reduce revenues for Metrolink and Amtrak. A number of cities and communities along the proposed routes oppose the project. Finally, the proposed project will require environmental review. Environmental review will include at least two alternatives (in addition to the mandatory “no-action” alternative) – a “shared track” alternative and a “dedicated track” alternative. Both present problems.
The shared track alternative would require no major property purchases and save homes and businesses. However, it would result in fewer trains and lower speeds, as compared to the dedicated rail alternative. It would also likely cause delays of Metrolink and Amtrak trains. The dedicated track alternative would allow higher speeds and would not cause delays for Metrolink and Amtrak. However, it would be far more costly to purchase property or obtain easements and build new tracks and stations. Opponents claim that dedicated tracks would require destruction of homes and businesses, and have the potential to impact parks and historic properties. The dedicated track alternative will also meet with strong opposition by open space advocates. If selected, the dedicate track alternative would involve planning complexities for what could be one of the largest new public works projects in the U.S.