C'mon, Ride the Train (to Bakersfield?)

High speed rail? Sure, I love a good train ride. The chance to travel to exotic locales such as Bakersfield and Fresno? Um, that's the best we could come up with?

So, we’re getting a bullet train after all.


And we’re starting it in the Central Valley of California. Really?

I guess you’ve got to start somewhere, but Bakersfield? Really? Who willingly wants to go to Bakersfield?

On the surface, I’m all for us making the leap to new technologies for our railroad systems. And it seems criminal that we’re so far behind on looking to the bullet train to help push us across long distances.

But from LA to Bakersfield? That’s a pretty small sample size right there (and before you start commenting in a huff, yes, eventually it’ll be going from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento).

I mean, if we wanted to start somewhere, why aren’t we thinking of desirable destinations such as LA to Palm Springs? Or LA to Las Vegas? (And yes, that’s interstate, but you don’t think the casinos wouldn’t love to pitch in?) Why aren’t we thinking about where the people are – and more importantly – where the people want to go?

The train (especially of the commuter variety) has a hard enough time gaining traction as it is in this part of the country. Think about it: How many times have you hopped on the Amtrak/Metrolink lines in the last year? Five years? Ten years?

No matter the pain at the pump, us Southern Californians are programmed to hop in our cars and drive off to wherever we need to go. We all know that public options are there, but it’s our car, our time and our convenience. The train doesn’t come and go as we please.

Now, for the record, I have used the train multiple times in the past 10 years. A couple of other times while in college as well. We’ve taken off to Del Mar for the horse races. A couple of day trips to Olvera Street and lunch at Philippe. And there have been three or four trips that we’ve connected to Staples Center using the subway.

Each time has been wonderful. It’s great sitting back and not worrying about traffic, wasting gas or paying for parking. But you’re on the train’s schedule. And if you miss one, you may have to wait an hour or two for the next one – if there is a next one that day.

But we come back to the problem from the top: Is the train taking us where we want to go? And when we get there, will be able to get around?

There’s just too much about the whole thing that’s leaving me queasy. It’s probably all the political games that are being played: the federal government’s involvement … the whims of power players trying to get extra for their district, city or county … the placement of stations along the route … the route itself …  I could go on.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that by the time all this gets built, it’ll already be woefully outdated, and we’ll be wondering why we didn’t just go ahead and build the even higher tech option in the first place. (MagLev to Vegas anyone?)

I don’t mean to get too down on the project. We desperately need something to push forward infrastructure upgrades in this state. We’re spending too much time, energy and money putting patches on what we already have (if Caltrans has to go out and repair a local bridge one more time, it’ll be one more time too many).

So, a bullet train to Bakersfield it is, then.


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Lane Schneider July 11, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Eric, I talked with the CEO of American Monorail Project back in February... I seem to remember that he said it was not taxpayer-funded. American Monorail is a private company; cities and other jurisdictions would lease the ROW to the company. That is a good idea, IMO. I agree that the compelling arguments are that it is an American project, and is basically a free-enterprise project rather than a government one. I would love for more people to become aware of this project. It also has application within and between cities. Just takes some change of thinking...
Eric Shamp July 11, 2012 at 10:24 PM
According to the website, there is some public expenditure, mainly for logistical and administrative matters. I would argue that under the current regulatory environment, that would not be a small cost. Also not mentioned on the website: there would be some very significant externalized public costs: imagine the public cost of 10 years of constant traffic delays along the I-5 corridor! Think how bad the I-215/91 interchange project was, and that was only one (admittedly very complex) interchange. This monorail project would have to (at least partially) redesign every single interchange along I-5. Following existing rail and aqueduct ROWs and/or creating new ROWs makes more sense, logistically. But... if we were to build a giant infrastructure project in California, HSR doesn't make any sense at all... not when we need a sustainable water supply, wildfire protection, shoreline redevelopment and stabilization, stable food supplies, and clean energy to cope with the increasing regularity of "extreme weather" caused by you-know-what.
Lane Schneider July 12, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Agreed, I don't think high-speed rail is needed or wanted at this time. But I do think that the monorail is a good alternative that bears consideration. And why not make the suggestion to American Monorail project about the rail or aqueduct ROW? I am simply glad that other ideas are out there...
Mr.A July 12, 2012 at 09:56 AM
To bad I don't know anybody in Bakersfield, or I would jump in that bullet train and just enjoy the ride all the way out there....
James, former full time res. July 17, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Why does this remind me of the Simpsons' episode where Springfield gets a monorail?


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