Sierra Club Way Too Bothered By CA High Speed Rail Plan

tgv.jpgI never thought I’d say this, but shame on the Sierra Club. That venerable organization is opposed to a particular routing for the long overdue California High Speed rail line which will someday connect the Bay Area with Los Angeles. [more here] The organization is threatening to sue if another, less convenient route is not chosen as the favored one by planners.
My beef is this – although the Pacheco Pass routing of the rail line may involve a higher immediate impact on certain environmental grounds (read those articles to see what I’m talking about), you’d have to be out of your mind to think that you’re doing the environment a favor by delaying high speed rail in California. This is a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees and meddling on relatively trivial matters when great progress might otherwise take place. It makes environmentalists look bad and slows down one of the most environmentally beneficial projects in the history of the State.

The Pacheco Pass routing will go directly through San Jose saving time and greatly adding to the appeal of the rail line which will in turn cut airplane usage, driving, and encourage transit oriented development in one of the most sprawling parts of California – the South SF Bay Area. The alternative plan will be slower and skip San Jose altogether, forgoing many thousands of potential riders where it counts most.
The California High Speed Rail line should have been built 20 years ago (not to mention many other lines in the US) but if petty bickering of this nature continues, it’ll be another 20 before it goes anywhere.
Ed note – It seems even Argentina is eons ahead of the United States in terms of transportation planning. A TGV Line will be build From Buenos Aires to Cordoba, apparently in the next few years.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

8 responses

  1. You are right; but for all the wrong reasons. You, too, have been captured by the “romance of railroads.” At first blush, building a passenger railroad sounds wonderful. But, think carefully and do your homework. Check the CHRA numbers; their under estimated development costs and their inflated profits and passenger projections. In short, this emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. That the Sierra Club doesn’t consider “full cost accounting” to see the deleterious impact on the environment of this mega-development is astounding. I can give you hundreds of facts and figures. Bottom line is that this is the greatest boondoggle every conceived.

  2. Martin – I’ll take your invite on that. Sure, building this line is going to have an impact, but is there a better alternative? I also don’t doubt that the CHRA paints as rosy a picture as possible, but if there’s anything I want my tax dollars spent on, this is it. The last thing we need is more freeways. Post some links if you can as I’m eager to get as full a picture as possible…

  3. It’s not just the Sierra club. Also opposed to the route are NRDC, Nature Conservancy, Audobon, the Planning and Conservations League, Defenders of Wildlife, and others. I’m not willing to dismiss that much opposition lightly.
    I’m pretty skeptical of the statement that this puts them opposed to transit oriented development. In the first place this is a high speed train, not a commuter. It’s suppose to replace planes going to LA, not cars commuting into Silicon Valley. In the second place, the rejected route goes through populated areas and the chosen route goes through parks and wilderness. I don’t expect either route to have much to do with transit oriented development but if either one does, it’s the one not chosen.
    If this thing gets built in my lifetime I’ll be shocked. We’ve been talking about it forever and we still don’t even have BART going around the San Francisco Bay area as was planned in the 60’s.

  4. OF COURSE California needs a high speed rail link, so does the east coast. (Something FAR better than they currently offer.) The European TGVs have taken huge numbers of cars off the roads and cut down on airplane travel. They are fast, inexpensive (due to government subsidies – and lets face it, PUBLIC transport should be subsidised by government…) comfortable and extremely convenient. There can be no better way to travel. Perhaps with Arnie behind it it the west coast line may finally happen – It is the only logical solution for the coastal runs.

  5. As a Bay Area native, I have to say that this is a real big shame that the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are against this just because of the route. Yes, if Pacheco is in the end the route, wetlands will be impacted, but what would the cost be in emissions if this is forever blocked and never gets built? I think the high speed train from SF to LA is a brilliant idea, and one that would surely take many cars off of the road and most likely reduce the amount of planes going up and down the state.
    Southwest Airlines currently provides the major link between the Bay Area and SoCal and currently has:
    From SF – LAX: 24 flights weekly
    From San Jose – LAX: 36 flights weekly
    From Oakland – LAX: 53 flights weekly
    That comes to a grand total of 113 flights each week going from the SF Bay Area to just Los Angeles alone, that’s not even counting all of the other smaller LA-area airports that Southwest serves from these very same airports on a daily basis. So obviously there is quite a bit of demand to go up and down the state.
    Those flights are typically between an hour and one hour and forty-five minutes long, and if the state got a high speed train that operates at TGV commercial speeds (roughly 200mph as seen on the TGV’s Wiki), that would mean, if there were fewer than say 5 stops along the way, the train could get from SF to LA in probably 2.5 hours or so, like the SFBG article says.
    I think there would be a market for people to want to take the train — no airport security hassles, no worrying about the 3-1-1 carry-on rule when you’re packing for a trip.
    A lot of the people that take these flights fly on business, and I’m sure they would welcome less hassle when it comes to either commuting or just going on a routine business trip by getting to take the train rather than fly.
    Also, there is a huge population of students from Southern California that go to colleges up in Northern California. I’m sure that they would be regular patrons too of this service when going home for the weekend, or long weekends, holidays, etc.
    As someone who’s concerned about climate change and actively follows the environmental movement, I have constantly heard the call to fly less, take the train more. But it’s a shame that environmental groups are willing to sue if they don’t get their own way when it comes to the route. I think they need to learn how to pick their battles and to compromise.
    Yes, it is unfortunate that wetlands will be destroyed if the line goes through Pacheco, but is it worth relying more and more on individual car travel and traveling on planes to get to and from the opposite ends of the state? I don’t think it is.

  6. it is exactly Martin’s “well, we don’t need it today so we might as well never build it” mentality that has crippled infrastructure in this country for the past half century.
    BART was first proposed in 1947 but didn’t begin full service until 1973, almost 30 years later. While I would never recommend using BART as a paradigm for public works projects, the fact remains that we need to be thinking about what infrastructure we will need in 30-50 years not today right-now (Thank GM and the other street car killers, along with the monorail builders for screwing the pooch on our generation of public transportation).
    1) The population of CA is going to double in the next 30 years, about 70% of this growth will occur in the Bay Area, LA, and San Diego metro areas while the rest will fill into the central valley.
    2) Jet planes burn KEROSENE with pollution levels that would make your old ’76 Mercedes turbo-diesel.
    So the question is what are you gonna do when Fresno has the population that the Bay Area has today? When I was a kid San Jose was a strip mall in the middle of nowhere surrounded by apple orchards, and that was only 30 years ago! Today it is twice the size of San Francisco, complete with grinding traffic jams.
    The private car and driver has been the recipient of one of the largest government welfare giveaways in history…yeah, I’m talking to you guys who whine about public transportation subsidies. Between 1960 and 1993 the federal government spent more then $450 billion on the Interstate system just so that out cars could have a place to go, and we the taxpayers/consumers have been duped into forking over enormous sums of money to oil producing nations (want to see your money at work? Ever heard of Dubai? It was still a tent city in the early 1990’s, so was Saudi Arabia for that matter.
    Anyway…I think that the time is right to do something for ourselves, and future generations of Californians. Go HSR!!!
    And if you don’t like it, let me know what you think of waiting in line for 2 hours to get frisked by security and hop on an overbooked half hour flight from Merced International Airport to LAX only to show up wondering “now how the hell am I gonna get downtown?”
    PS Is it just me or is “boondogle” a blanket term for conservatives describing any public money not spent on either law enforcement or the military?

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