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Action Alert: Tell California to finish entire electrified Central Valley line as planned

July 31, 2019

This week, the Los Angeles Times reported on a plan forming in the California legislature to divert $5 billion in high-speed rail funds to commuter rail upgrades in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The plan relies on two key cuts to the initial high-speed rail segment in the Central Valley. First, only 119 miles would be completed, from outside of Bakersfield to Madera. The full segment is 170 miles from downtown Bakersfield to Merced, where it would connect to expanded and improved commuter and Amtrak trains.

Second, it would remove the electrification of the tracks, crippling the line designed for 220-mph operation by limiting it to much slower diesel trains.

Yes, California should accelerate plans to upgrade existing tracks in the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions, but it should identify additional funding to do that. If completing improvements by the 2028 Olympics is a goal, then the games should be used as a reason to find new money, not to slice off critical parts of the high-speed project.

Legislators in California argue that prioritizing the urban segments will get more people on faster trains sooner, ultimately creating the support necessary to fund the rest of the system. They’re not wrong, in principle.

However, the upgrades to existing tracks planned in the dense, urban areas of the Bay Area and L.A. will yield only incremental results. These are very necessary incremental upgrades, to be sure, but they will not be as noticeable as the dramatic difference in speed and travel time that blasting through the Central Valley at 200+ mph allows.

That extreme speed that compresses long distances is the revolutionary part of high-speed rail that Californians (and Americans in general) must experience to believe—and to demand that the rest of the system is built as planned. As a study of a high-speed line in Illinois demonstrates, doubling travel speeds from 110 to 220 mph makes the train ten times more popular and useful.

Removing the ability of California’s first high-speed segment to actually be high-speed will prevent that revolutionary multiplier effect. Limiting trains to diesel speeds also makes it easier for the project’s critics to say, “I told you this was never going to work.”

Don’t let California make a critical mistake by crippling the premiere segment of its high-speed project. California legislators need to hear from the entire nation: Build the complete Central Valley segment, and electrify it for 220-mph trains! We’ve made it easy to send this message. Do it now!