Today's Sacramento Bee examines what Sacramento gets out of Proposition 1A and high speed rail. The article wants to generate some controversy about the fact that Sacramento is going to be included in a later phase of construction, but few of the folks interviewed were willing to play along. Instead the article provides one of the most detailed and strongest arguments for voters not living along the SF-LA "spine" to support Proposition 1A.
Rail Authority executive Mehdi Morshed said his agency's studies indicate the first segment will be a moneymaker – and income would be used to extend the line to Sacramento and San Diego.
That's the rub for Sacramento.
"Unless somebody builds the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment, Sacramento will never be built because it will never pencil out," Morshed said. "You need to have the cash cow (first)."
Morshed isn't just speaking in the abstract. Both the French TGV and Spanish AVE systems have followed a similar trajectory, where an initial line became so popular it created the political will and the financial capacity to expand new lines. The TGV puts SNCF in the black and subsidizes not only new HSR lines but the rest of SNCF's passenger rail operations. The first AVE lines helped pay for expansions of the system, including the route from Madrid to Barcelona.
Representative Doris Matsui, whose district is primarily comprised of Sacramento, agrees, especially on the need to use a starter line to build momentum for more extensions:
"For me it would be easier to look favorably on this if Sacramento were in the loop early on," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. "We are the capital city. Why not?"
But, she said, "We're never going to get there unless we take the first step. If California comes out ahead, we benefit."
Matsui's approach is sound - realizing that Sacramento benefits when the state as a whole benefits - which it will once the SF-LA line is under way.
Sacramento benefits in more tangible and immediate ways and the article's author, Tony Bizjak, should be commended for explaining to readers that Sacramento's existing passenger rail systems are in line for a much-needed financial boost from Prop 1A:
The bond measure sets aside at least $47 million for improvements to Sacramento's popular Capitol Corridor passenger train line.
Sacramento Regional Transit, which runs light rail and buses, also is in line to receive at least $21 million.
Capitol Corridor train chief Gene Skoropowski is a vocal bond measure supporter, and said his trains between Auburn and the Bay Area would work in tandem with bullet trains, at first in San Jose, and eventually in Sacramento.
"Our service would likely become a major feeder-collector," he said. "People would take our train to Sacramento or San Jose to connect up with the high-speed trains."
The Capitol Corridor trains, RT light-rail trains and Amtrak trains would meet up with bullet trains at the downtown Sacramento railyard transit depot.
$47 million can go quite a long way for the Capitol Corridor, as would $21 million for Sacramento's RT. For the Capitol Corridor that money could purchase new train cars, and upgrade existing sections of track to improve the route's already remarkable on-time percentage - 93.8% in September 2008.
Other passenger rail systems around the state will receive immediate benefits from Prop 1A. The Pacific Surfliner that connects SLO, Santa Barbara, Ventura, LA, Orange County, and San Diego is in line for about $45 million, as are the San Joaquins. The San Joaquin money would be significant since upgrades there could help passengers in Sacramento reach the Merced HSR station more quickly. Metrolink is to receive some money, and the long-planned Coast Daylight, a train from SF to LA via the coast route (Salinas, SLO, Santa Barbara) could also get fully funded.
The article closes by showing how Congress is already poised to begin directing federal money to the HSR project:
Congress also recently established a $1.5 billion grant program to promote high-speed rail. Rep. Matsui said California should line up well for a chunk of that money if voters approve the bond.
That money isn't the full federal match that will be needed, of course - but it IS a clear indication of Congressional willingness to provide money, especially when the US Senate is prepared to push a much larger HSR funding plan in 2009.
Of course, Sacramento can expect to someday be included on the HSR route. We here in Monterey will never be included. But both of our cities will benefit, immediately, from Prop 1A when it passes. And we will benefit in the long term from the HSR line that will make passenger rail travel in our state much quicker, efficient, and available to all of us, even we folks on the Central Coast who make regular trips to Southern California.