Measure to Build High-Speed Railway Subject of Controversy

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Bullet trains used to be a luxury only found in foreign metropolises, but if voters approve a statewide ballot measure in November, they may be able to shoot across California in record time-as early as 2016.

If passed, Proposition 1A would provide nearly $10 billion in state bonds to begin construction on an ambitious high-speed rail system that would span from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

With a $55 ticket, riders could embark on a 188-minute journey, relieving highway and air traffic congestion, the California High Speed Rail Authority estimates.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates thought the rail plan would be a worthy investment for the people of Berkeley.

"It is expensive and it will need private capital," Bates said. "However, I think it's a good idea and we should definitely try it."

If approved by voters, proponents say the rail system could serve as a fast, low-cost way to travel for the 11,000 UC Berkeley students who have homes in the seven southernmost counties of California.

But others said the rail system could be a fiscal disaster.

According to a report by the Reason Foundation, which is anti-rail, the system would cost over $80 billion and would serve 23.4 million riders by 2030, as opposed to the 65.5 million estimate proposed by the authority.

While proponents say the system could reduce traffic, countries with similar systems in place have not seen a significant decrease in urban highway congestion, said Adib Kanafani, a UC Berkeley civil engineering professor.

Kanafani said that foreign rail systems often went far over budget during construction and only become financially self-sufficient after decades of operation.

"Other countries' rail projects often go over budget," he said. "Once you start digging you don't know what will happen. There are all sorts of uncertainties."

The rail system, to be stationed in San Francisco and potentially Oakland, will not pass through Berkeley.

Proponents said they hope to eventually extend service to Sacramento, San Diego, and the Inland Empire with multiple stops across the state.

A recent report by the pro-rail Bay Area Council Economic Institute stated that the rail system could provide more than 12,000 jobs by 2030 in Alameda County alone.

Sean Randolph, president of the institute and author of the report, said the rail system could indirectly impact Berkeley financially.

"We (would) have jobs that are created by people who are involved in the construction ... They buy houses and goods and services, and that money gets circulated into the economy," he said. "Residents and companies (would benefit) because Berkeley is minutes away from where the high speed rail would be."

While some students supported the rail system, they opposed the proposition due to financial concerns.

"If California High Speed Rail should succeed, asking the public to pay would not work. It would have to be through private industry," said Rick Chen, a freshman UC Berkeley Political Science major. "It's fiscally irresponsible."

Despite budgetary concerns, some believe that the rail system would help the environment by saving gas.

"We do need (high speed rail) for our own reasons," Kanafani said. "We have to create a multimodal system that is sufficient, less environmentally polluting and uses better sources of energy."


Contact Matthew Peters at [email protected]

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