High-speed trains will power California forward

A dozen nations enjoy state-of-the-art, safe, high-speed trains that move people and products faster than we do at a fraction of the cost, pollution and hassle. It's been 10 years since California started developing our own system. Since then, traffic congestion and air-pollution have increased while gas prices have soared.

This year we'll finally have a chance to catch up with the rest of the world. In November, voters will be asked to pass a ballot measure to finance our system – nearly 800 miles of tracks and high-speed trains moving at 220 MPH – without new taxes.
There is no other single investment in our future that will do as much to combat global warming, create good-paying jobs and unclog our freeways.

Recently, a remarkable turnout of representatives of 70 private firms met in Sacramento to review the financing plans of the system and to consider investment opportunities. Why the new momentum? First, builders, operators and financiers know that this could be our breakthrough year in launching a project that truly is inevitable.

Secondly, Governor Schwarzenegger has sought and received additional taxpayer safeguards that will guide the public-private financing and construction of the system. With his new support, the governor has embraced an issue that should define his legacy. Once high-speed trains are built, the governor will forever be known for providing the state with a new advance in environmental sustainability while remaining true to the Golden State value of promoting economic growth.

Indeed, th governor recently characterized our need for improved transportation infrastructure in terms of economic power. "When it comes to infrastructure we have fallen way behind," he said, "and economic power is how fast you move people and goods around in the state."

The governor is absolutely correct. In times of recession or near-recession, the new economic power that will result from moving people and goods swiftly (Bay Area to Southern California in just over two and a half hours) thanks to high-speed trains cannot be understated. Just designing and building the system will require us to utilize and expand California's skilled work force, creating nearly 160,000 construction-related jobs. Once in operation, the improvements to mobility measured in terms of lower transportation costs and time-savings, will create an additional 450,000 permanent jobs.

The economic advantages of a high-speed train system exceed job creation. Once built, the system will further boost our economy by generating a net surplus of $1 billion in annual operating profit. What's more, societal and health care costs of injury and deaths from auto accidents can be reduced dramatically because high-speed trains have proven the safest, fatality-free form of city-to-city travel in Europe and Asia.

From Earth Day to the Environmental Quality Act, California has always been known as a leader in pioneering environmental protections. But with air pollution worsening, we've lost ground. Electric high-speed trains will restore our leadership role in the "green" movement.

High-speed trains will eliminate nearly 18 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming each year. That's equivalent to removing more than one million vehicles from our roads annually. They will also reduce dependence on foreign oil by up to 22 million barrels per year.

As populations continue to increase, high-speed trains are constitute a key pillar in local efforts to clean up what has become some of the nation's dirtiest air. Statewide, California's population will rise to 50 million people in 20 years.

Over that same time, the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco airports are predicting "unacceptable delays" and will reach capacity.

Building the 220 mile-per-hour train system to solve this need for expanded capacity will require only one third of the cost of pouring new concrete to add freeways and runways.

The funding strategy for planning, design and construction of the speed train system relies on three sources: state and local funding, federal financing and public-private partnerships. According to experts at Lehman Brothers, "Public support, both financial and political, will create an opportunity for the High-Speed Rail Authority to leverage significant private participation. Construction firms, vendors, operators and private equity firms are all interested in the project, and could, on their own or in partnership with one another, participate in the development of the project."

With the support of the governor, with a financing plan that leverages both private and public investments and with approval from the voters, high-speed trains are poised to become a reality in California. And by building this system, California will regain its rightful place as America's premier economic, transportation and environmental leader.

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