Dennis Lytton, who has authored a post for this blog back in June and is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, has now published an op-ed in today's Daily Breeze, a newspaper in SoCal's South Bay region, explaining the benefits of Prop 1A and high speed rail. I won't reproduce the entire op-ed here but will include some of the salient points.
The op-ed opens by retelling a tragic story of a UC Berkeley student from Pasadena who was killed on her way back to campus while driving near Gilroy - one of the numerous automobile fatalities that can be prevented by fast, efficient, plentiful intercity rail:
Improvements in auto safety have helped reduce the rate of automobile fatalities. However, that gain is largely negated by increases in the number of miles Americans typically drive. This is a reflection of bad public policy that favors sprawl and freeways over modern rail systems and transit-oriented development. It causes our traffic nightmares, fouls our air, takes far too many lives and makes us dependent on triple-digit prices for crude oil.
California High Speed Rail would initially stretch from Anaheim to San Francisco, with future branches to Sacramento and San Diego. The system would be completely separated from automobile traffic and freight trains. The tracks would be fenced in and monitored by earthquake sensors and cameras. Safety would even exceed that of airplanes, since high-speed trains don't carry volatile fuels that can be touched off by explosives in a shampoo bottle or shoe.
But the most important safety feature is that millions of people annually will take the train instead of driving. Europe and Japan have far fewer transportation-related fatalities than the United States - due mostly to their lower dependence on the automobile for local and intercity transit. California could potentially save thousands of lives lost per year in auto accidents if it built a state-of-the art intercity rail system.
Dennis' points are excellent and have not been made often enough. The safety features that HSR offers are not available to drivers or those taking planes. The system's safety will save lives over driving and will make the trains a more attractive option to travelers within California.
Dennis also reminds us of the fuel efficiency of HSR:
High-speed rail is the greenest way to move people ever invented. Trains consume only one-third of the energy used by an airplane and one-fifth the energy of an automobile trip. Nearly all of the electricity of HSR's trains could be produced from renewable energy sources. High-speed rail would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds per year. It would reduce California's oil consumption by up to 22 million barrels per year (1,100 million gallons per year). At a price of $125 a barrel, savings in oil costs alone would approach $2.75billion annually. Oil costs will rise in the long run, as oil geologists agree that we are entering an age of declining oil reserves that will be ever harder to extract.
Which gives me the opportunity to repost one of my favorite images:
(Image from Alberta High Speed Rail)
Now I'm sure the usual HSR deniers are clucking, "but oil prices have fallen!" That's true - for now. When Dennis originally wrote this op-ed the price of a barrel of oil was at $125. They're now at $66. Of course, it is common for oil prices to decline in the autumn and winter months, only to rise again in the spring and summer. But here's the thing - that does NOT mean we can rely on oil to serve our travel needs.
The only reason oil prices have declined is demand destruction. Meaning that fewer people are using gas to travel. If lower gas prices spur an increase in gas consumption, the price will rise again, as many economists have recognized. The only way to produce affordable, sustainable, long-term growth independent of the vagaries of oil price fluctuation is to build rail projects such as high speed rail.
As we've seen here, HSR is a successful method of travel around the world. It operates without subsidies, attracts millions of new train riders, and provides badly needed jobs and economic growth. Thanks to Dennis Lytton we are also reminded that it provides safer and more fuel efficient travel. The case for Prop 1A could not be clearer.