Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sierra Club Endorses Prop 1A

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

It's now official - the Sierra Club of California has voted to endorse Proposition 1A. We all knew that high speed rail would provide a major boost to California's efforts to produce environmentally friendly, sustainable, and global warming-fighting policies, and the Sierra Club's endorsement will help communicate that clearly to voters. From their Yes on 1A statement (.doc file) authored by Stuart Cohen of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition:

Sierra Club supports Proposition 1A, which would provide $9.95 billion dollars to catalyze the development of the 800 mile High-Speed Rail (HSR) system, and to make improvements to existing rail networks. Building HSR in California will reinforce our cities as the hubs of our economies, promote sustainable land use, significantly reduce global warming pollution, and get commuters off congested roads and out of crowded airports. While it is an extremely expensive project, adding the same capacity by expanding highways and airports would cost at least twice as much.

The statement also mentioned safeguards that the Sierra Club helped include in AB 3034, including the elimination of a Los Banos station and protection of important ecological areas. It also mentions the cost of doing nothing - $20 billion to bring Highway 99 to interstate standards, and far larger sums for airport expansion. They also noted approvingly that the Authority approved the goal of powering the trains with 100% renewable energy, ensuring that we get maximum carbon reduction benefits from the project and spurring development of new renewables sources.

A small number of activists in Northern California have been trying to claim that high speed rail is somehow environmentally damaging or won't bring the promised benefits. The Sierra Club of California has resoundingly rejected those arguments by backing Prop 1A - with nearly unanimous support from those who cast votes on the endorsement.

Over the last few months the urgency behind global warming action seems to have eased a bit as economic and energy concerns have dominated the public mind. But all three - environment, economy, energy - are fundamentally linked. To grow the economy and provide affordable, reliable energy we need to reduce carbon emissions and build sustainable, green infrastructure in our state.

The Sierra Club has demonstrated that it understands the importance of what Van Jones called moving "from opposition to proposition" with their endorsement of Prop 1A. It will be a pleasure to campaign for high speed rail alongside their membership.


Brandon in California said...

Go Sierra Club! I didn't want to think of them as being inconsequential.... and there they go trying to prove me wrong.

Spokker said...

re: SWM looking for BBW to take 1st ride w/ me on CA HSR. must love eminent domain and electric locomotives. plz email

Erik said...

A little off topic: considering the Altamont Commuter Express will likely be upgraded for higher speed service, the Dumbarton bridge will probably be upgraded as well. Wouldn't it be feasible to simply lay tracks across either the Dumbarton car bridge or the Hayward bridge?

Brandon in California said...

^^^ What would that provide for HSR?

Nothing... except split services and lower quality service.

Nevertheless, the decision has been made to stick with the Pacheco alignment, again.

Or, are you speakign to ACE or Caltrain across Dumbarton?

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

The study on renewable electricity for HSR concluded that it would be possible iff CAHSR committed to it early on.

Did I miss something? Has that commitment has actually been made?

@ erik -

the westernmost 1000ft of the single-track Dumbarton rail bridge was destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1998. See Google Maps's satellite view for details.

Rebuilding that would likely involve removing the damaged support columns, which are impregnated with creosote, from the mud, which is laced with arsenic from the Gold Rush days. The close proximity to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge means getting a permit would be very difficult. Moreover, the bridge does not conform to modern seismic standards.

Caltrain still has plans to run trains across the Bay to Union City BART some day, but IMHO it's not going to happen until the old bridge starts falling apart of its own accord. That could take quite a while. As for ever running HSR trains across the Bay at Dumbarton, fuggedaboutit.

For commuters, the best option might be to run buses from Fremont BART to Fremont Centerville Amtrak/ACE, across the road bridge to Network Circle, through East Palo Alto, down Bayshore Blvd to Shoreline Business Park, on to Mtn View Caltrain, Sunnyvale, One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, Campbell and Los Gatos. Passengers could connect to both downtown San Jose and Santa Cruz in Campbell.

With modest effort, the remaining portion of the rail bridge could be refurbished to the level require for use by pedestrians and (electric) bicycles.

It might be even possible to construct an elegant lightweight suspension span suitable for such traffic, with minimal impact on the wildlife refuge. In that case, the track into Redwood City should be converted to a trail.

Anonymous said...

This was a no brainer. I said as much many moons ago when Robert was wringing his hands over it.

The only question now remaining is whether either the State of California or the US Government will be solvent for the time required to build the damn thing. Thats an entirely different conversation beyond the scope of this blog though ;-)

Glad to see the Sierra Club come on board though. I am a lifetime member, and will be calling them up today to make a pledge to help them finance any ads they might want to run in support of 1a. I think that seeing a Sierra Club stamp of approval on the train will help make it more legitimate in the eyes of many voters.


Spokker said...

Off-topic, but KCBS ran a story about the safety of bullet trains vs. convention trains.


Opponents will no doubt point out that they failed to mention the InterCityExpress tragedy. Still, the safety record of high speed rail is sound and I'm glad this story ran.

Erik said...

@Brandon Altamont Commuter Express=ACE. It is being talked about as simply a complementary service.

@Rafael I am referring to the preexisting Dumbarton car bridge. It is six lanes wide, couldn't two lanes be removed for track to run along it?

Rafael said...

@ erik -

the Dumbarton road bridge could easily support light rail but I'm not sure it is strong enough for the heavy variety, e.g. FRA-compliant locomotives. Either way, you'd have to get trains on and off the span - which opens a large can of worms.

However, I suspect, those six lanes are there for a good reason. BART wanted to use the emergency lanes on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge at one point but Caltrans nixed the idea on safety grounds.

Brandon in California said...

I think ACE gets way to much attention. It's average weekday ridership is less than 3,000 per day.

That is less than 1% of what BART does!

That is less than what an average urban bus route does!

To me, ACE is the poster child for a B movie.... and it's reviews are too grandoise for the sunstance it provides.

Spokker said...

ACE is bare bones commuter rail. Being that you can really only travel one-way in the morning and one-way in the afternoon, what kind of ridership do you expect it to get?

It does its job. Better service on that line would only attract more ridership.

Anonymous said...

Prop. 1a is a bad idea for the following reasons:

-Cars take people point-to-point once you arrive so are far preferable over station-so-station transport. We already have station-to-station in the form of airplanes, which work fine. If a high-speed rail system were designed to ferry cars then it might get significant use.

-The boarding and de-boarding delays and stops along the way will wipe out much of the promise of going fast. 4 hours HSR vs. 6 hours driving–not worth the added hassle.

-Most of the life of this system will be in the distant future when cars and highways will be very different from now. By 2050 self-driving cars will be able to caravan down Interstate 5 at 110 mph, drafting bumper-to-bumper to save gas. Of course their energy source will be derived from renewables.

-California just cannot afford this. Check out the classrooms in my kids’ schools, check out the county hospitals, to see where the pressing needs are.

-California must not absorb a population of 50 million people. Our current water, pollution, education, health care, crime, energy, traffic problems are already due mainly to overpopulation. That’s got to stop.

So I’m voting no on 1a. Bring on high speed car-ferry rail in the future when we’ve got more pressing problems under control and can afford to splurge on sci-fi.