High Speed Rail

At last night’s City Council meeting we gave new guidance to staff as to how the Council views high speed rail as it relates to San Carlos. The short version of where we ended up is simple: the Council doesn’t support putting more tracks through San Carlos. This is a pretty significant change from where things stood prior to the last election. Previously the Council was willing to accept more significant impacts, including potentially acquiescing in doubling the number of tracks running through town from two to four.

As a big skeptic about high speed rail I was gratified to see this position adopted. The idea of destroying enormous amounts of property value in order to reduce transit times between San Francisco and Los Angeles always struck me as odd, to say the least. That’s particularly true when you consider the projected transit times may not be noticeably better than taking a plane (places further away from airports would see a bigger benefit, of course). Besides, using 19th century technology to solve a 21st century problem doesn’t strike me as particularly forward-looking. If as a society we really want to make a game-changing infrastructure investment, why not look at using the growing nexus of transportation and computer technology? California, and particularly the Bay Area, is the technology capital of the planet, after all.

Big enormous do-it-all-at-once ideas sound exciting, but they don’t usually work out that well in practice. It’s far better to look at ways to add improvements and enhancements to a system over time. That’s true both financially — you can use the economic surplus generated by the earlier investments to fund the next round — and politically — giving people a chance to see and realize benefits on a personal level tends to make them more amenable to accept further investment.

One last point: Andy Klein took the opportunity to have the last word during our Council discussion (he is the Mayor this year, so he gets to do that), and chastised the three of us (Ron, Matt & me) who wanted the change in focus as indulging in NIMBY thinking. He may have been reacting to something I said, which boiled down to “if another community wants to accept additional tracks, they’re welcome to”. My point in saying that was not “not in my backyard”, but rather “I’m on the San Carlos City Council, and I don’t want to inject my views into another community”.

But there’s another angle to this discussion which Andy’s superficial observation ignores. We are the San Carlos City Council. We are supposed to look out for the interests, and promote the welfare, of our residents. I’m not interested in sacrificing those interests and that welfare, even for the greater good, unless the benefit/cost trade-off makes sense for our community. If that sounds like I’m concerned about San Carlos’ backyard, so be it.

2 thoughts on “High Speed Rail”

  1. I want economic stimulus. I want to support the US economy. But, honestly, who’s going to take this train?

    My husband flies down to LA once or twice a week for work and he would NEVER take high speed rail. Why would he, when he can walk out our door and into a meeting in Burbank in under three hours? (Sometimes, he can make it in two hours — he’s got it down to a science.) I might take the kids on a train to visit my mom once, for the thrill of it… But, if asked to choose between another day at nana’s with the dog or Disneyland, my kids are going to choose the dog and the mouse… every time.

    1. An excellent question, IMHO. It sure seems like we’re solving a 21st century problem with 19th century technology.

      p.s. – Congratulations on being the first commenter, ever, on my Council website!

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