What Happened When an HSR Supporter Went to the Central Valley?
James Fallows is a nationally prominent writer for The Atlantic. He’s also a fan of high speed rail, having gotten to know it well when living in China. Last year, when writing about Governor Jerry Brown, Fallows mentioned Brown’s work on HSR and his own support of the project.
Fallows didn’t leave it there. In the last year he’s been doing a lot of research into high speed rail, including several trips to the Central Valley. So what was the result?
I’ll let Fallows tell you in his own words:
As I’ve read and interviewed over the past year, including on reporting trips to California’s Central Valley, I’ve become more strongly in favor of the plan, and supportive of the Brown Administration’s determination to stick with it. In installments to come I’ll spell out further pros and cons of the effort, and why the pros seem more compelling.
Unlike many California-based reporters, Fallows has plenty of experience with HSR, and therefore he’s not inclined to see it as some exotic weird thing but as a normal piece of modern infrastructure. Instead he looks at the evidence and discovers, lo and behold, it’s an even better idea than he thought:
For the meantime, here are three analyses worth a serious read:
• An economic impact analysis prepared by the Parsons Brinckerhoff firm for the High-Speed Rail Authority two years ago, which looked into likely effects on regional development, sprawl, commuting times, pollution, and so on.
• An analysis by law school teams from UCLA and Berkeley, which concentrated on the project’s effects in the poorest and most polluted part of the state, the central San Joaquin Valley.
• A benefit-cost analysis by Cambridge Systematics, of the “net present value” of a California high-speed rail system. (NPV is a standard way of comparing long-term costs and benefits.) It had charts like these on the likely longer-term benefits of the project, and said that the costs would be significantly less.
Fallows’ post also includes several maps, many of which emphasize the importance of reducing air pollution in the Central Valley. That’s a point this blog has made often and I’m glad to see it getting a broader audience.
And best of all, this is just the first installment in a series Fallows and The Atlantic are rolling out on California high speed rail. So look for more in depth discussion of the project there. I’m glad that they’re covering this, and bringing some light where we’ve sorely needed it.