Congressional Republicans Still Trying to Kill California HSR
California voters and their legislators have approved the high speed rail project and construction will begin this summer. But that isn’t stopping Congressional Republicans, led by Central Valley representatives Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy, from trying to kill the project, as Dan Walters explains:
Denham questioned why California had not sought approval of the project from the federal Surface Transportation Board, a successor to the old Interstate Commerce Commission, as apparently required by federal law.
With the CHSRA hoping to break ground within a few months, the failure to clear the project through the federal board, or get an exemption from it, could become a new weapon in the arsenal of groups that oppose the bullet train.
The sticky point, apparently, is the CHSRA’s plan to connect the 131-mile-long San Joaquin Valley segment to Amtrak service in the region. The Surface Transportation Board exempted Florida’s bullet train project from its process because it was a stand-alone system, but connecting to Amtrak could invoke its authority.
We’re not sure yet,” Dan Richard, the CHSRA’s chairman, said earlier this week. But Tuesday, after meeting with Denham, the CHSRA agreed to seek the approval.
It seems likely that the STB will give its approval to the California high speed rail project, but this is an obvious 11th-hour move by Denham to undermine a project that will put his constituents back to work and help promote economic growth for years to come.
Walters also described another line of attack being used against the project, this regarding the ability to achieve the 2 hours and 40 minutes standard laid down in Prop 1A:
When the CHSRA switched the project from a stand-alone system to one “blended” with regional train service, critics demanded technical proof that it could meet the standard. Last month, the CHSRA generated a memorandum purporting to prove that it could do so “with appropriate assumptions,” based on computer modeling.
However, the model assumes that the train could “operate safely at 220 mph on sustained steep grades” in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and Los Angeles – a contention that critics are attacking as unrealistic and potentially unsafe.
That could become the basis for another legal challenge.
Trains can operate safely at 220 mph on steep grades, but it requires some different technical solutions, including the right kind of braking and proper track design. The Authority is only assuming 220 mph for the downhill section, and not the uphill part. This is only necessary because of the “blended plan” and while I support that plan, I can also understand why some like Lynn Schenk think the impact to the overall project is too great.
These issues would be more easily resolved with federal money, which as we know isn’t coming as long as Republicans control either house of Congress. Bakersfield’s own Kevin McCarthy again rattled his saber, saying “I would hate to see [California] start a process they cannot finish.”
Well, I would hate for Congress to refuse to help create jobs, reduce oil consumption, and address the climate crisis merely out of ideological spite, but here we are. California will have to continue going it alone until wiser heads have control of Congress.