A recurring feature here at the California High Speed Rail Blog will be answering questions about the project, particularly those that involve common misconceptions on the part of low-information voters. These might be questions that come up in the comments, in e-mail, or on other websites (as is the case with this inaugural edition).
The first one comes from the CAHSR Facebook group:
Where do you propose this railway go? Undeveloped land in CA is practically non-existent and I think we should save what we do have left. This is a great idea, but its large-scale development could do more harm than good for our disappearing CA natural habitat. What do you guys think?
This is a perfect example of someone who has heard about the concept of high speed rail in CA but knows nothing about its details. In fact, the California High Speed Rail Authority produced a detailed Implementation Plan back in 2002.
The plan explains that the HSR tracks will be built alongside existing rails, particularly in urban areas. In the Bay Area, it will follow the Caltrain line from the Transbay Terminal in downtown SF to Gilroy. In SoCal it will follow the Metrolink line from Palmdale to downtown LA, and then south to Irvine. The route to San Diego follows rail lines out to Riverside, and then follows Interstate 15 to downtown SD.
In the Central Valley the HSR tracks will follow the UP line down the spine of the valley from Bakersfield to Sacramento. The only construction along new right-of-way (ROW) would be between the Bay Area and the Central Valley and between the Bakersfield and Palmdale. Even in these cases the line is expected to follow existing roads - such as Highway 152 over the Pacheco Pass - as much as possible.
Following existing ROW - and especially existing track - means that the impact to surrounding communities is minimal, while bringing those cities immense value. The HSR stations would be upgrades and extensions of existing stations, such as LA Union Station, or are already at the centerpiece of urban planning, such as the Transbay Terminal in SF. Virtually all the cities along the line want HSR and support its construction.
The route over the Pacheco Pass is controversial, as will be discussed in future posts here. And although there will be some impacts to land, the environmental benefits of HSR - including its low carbon footprint, non-oil based propulsion, and mass transit aspects - would help mitigate any land impact. Finally, the HSR implementation plan seeks to limit the ability of localities to use HSR as an engine for sprawl, and there have been efforts to write language into the bond proposal to provide strong development rules and open space protection measures.
Consider the alternatives - expansion of airports and freeways is far more damaging to the environment, requires more land, and is more costly to both the state and the individual traveler than HSR.