California’s young face a bleak future without high-speed rail

An artist's rendering of California's proposed bullet train. (Image: California High Speed Rail Authority)

I was a sophomore at UC Berkeley in 2008 when voters were asked to decide whether to pass Proposition 1A, the ballot measure to fund the launch of California’s high-speed rail effort. I was beyond excited about the idea of a bullet train in California — getting from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and half hours and helping our planet by reducing air travel and getting an estimated 400,000 cars off the road every year.

My generation is one that’s focused on ways to get people out of their cars – and this project does just that.

We need to act with urgency to transform our transportation system with electrified high-speed rail as its centerpiece.

So I spent my spring break that year with a group of students traveling, much of the time on bicycles, along the route of the proposed rail line. We started from San Francisco on a sunny Monday in March and over the next five days and 500 miles stood alongside mayors and state officials proudly explaining how high-speed rail is good for our environment, a great way to reduce air travel and car traffic, and is just so cool.

My peers and I were ecstatic when California voters agreed with us and passed Prop. 1A. We made plans to reunite in 2020, when the project was originally expected to be completed, to take our place in history among the first riders to traverse the state on high-speed rail.

We can’t afford to wait any longer. Climate change is already taking its toll on our health and safety. We need to act with urgency to transform our transportation system with electrified high-speed rail as its centerpiece.

California’s leaders need to show we’re serious. That starts with the State Legislature approving the $4.2 billion bond appropriation in Governor Newsom’s proposed budget to help complete the first leg of the rail line in the Central Valley and dedicating additional resources to accelerate progress and show positive results in urban Southern California and the Bay Area.

The state’s $97 billion projected budget surplus provides yet another enormous opportunity to turbocharge work on the project. With these investments, the California High-Speed Rail Authority can better compete for billions of dollars in federal funding.

Each year, pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles cuts short an estimated 58,000 lives in this country, and increases the risk of lung cancer, stroke and heart disease. Transportation is also now America’s number one source of carbon pollution. Cars, trucks, diesel trains and other vehicles emit more carbon dioxide than the entire economy of any single country except China and India.

It’s not just me who still wants to see high-speed rail in California.

Long after I rode my bike from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the majority of California voters continue to support high-speed rail. According to a recent UC Berkeley-Los Angeles Times poll, 56% of registered voters in California want to continue building the project, including 73% of registered Democrats and 54% of Independents. Young people continue to be among its most ardent supporters, with 65% of voters between 18 and 39 supporting the project. Overall support in Los Angeles County is also strong, at 59%.

To achieve our zero-carbon goals and secure the future for our children, California must follow through on its commitment to build the nation’s first high-speed rail system.

The nation is watching, let’s show them what we can achieve.

Editor’s Note: Jenn Engstrom is State Director of CALPIRG, which is a member of the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition.


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