High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Joseph E. Petrillo Presentation to the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, December 2003.

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Map of planned high speed rail lines in Califo...

Map of planned high speed rail lines in California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thank you very much, Ms. Duffy.

I want to thank The Commonwealth Club for inviting us and holding this panel discussion, because this is a most appropriate and auspicious time for such a discussion. We will soon begin the Environmental Impact Report review process. Therefore, we expect that the profile of California’s program for high-speed rail will be much higher among the public throughout the state as a result of those hearings and the studies. It’s also auspicious because, as Ms. Duffy mentioned, the vote on the bond act to fund the system is scheduled for November 2004.

Before introducing Mehdi Morshed, I’d like to make a few comments about my thoughts about high-speed rail. I’m a new chairman. I was just elected and started my term on the first of July. The invitation was issued to my predecessor, Mr. Rod Diridon, and I want to thank him for the work that he did during those two years in bringing this program to the state that it is today, on the verge of actual implementation.

Now, some of my thoughts on high-speed rail: First, what we’re trying to do. This is a statewide program. It’s designed as an intercity program to transport people at high speeds between large population areas in Northern and Southern California. It is not a solution to short-haul commuter transportation problems. Sometimes we get confused and think that they’re one and the same; they are not. To have high-speed rail, it could take as much as 40 miles to bring [a train] up to speed and slow it down. So, by the nature of it, the stations have to be long distances from one another in order to make the system work at the maximum efficiency.

On the other hand, one of the most important things in any system like this, especially the high-speed system, is the location and the ability of the stations on the high-speed rail to connect with all of, or as many of, the regional and local transportation systems that exist so that ridership is increased, but basically so that people can go from car or commuter train or bus to the long-distance transportation provided by high-speed rail.

The high-speed rail system, in my opinion, when implemented will become the backbone of the future transportation system here in California, taking people long distances at very high speed to locations where they can transfer and travel around to regional and local destinations.

I firmly believe high-speed rail transportation will change the face of California the way the California Water Project, the freeway projects, and even the initial railroads of the last century did.

But in addition to those vast economic changes and growth that will be generated by high-speed rail, the high-speed rail system that we’re looking at here in California is one of the few public works projects, certainly that I know of, that has been designed from the beginning with environmental benefits as one of its core values. We believe – and I think our studies are beginning to show that and will be exposed more in the final Environmental Impact Report – further residential and commercial development necessitated by the natural growth of population in California, which is slated to be much more than 50 percent over the next 35 years, that the high-speed rail system will use up less land to accommodate that growth than any of the transportation systems that we have studied. Air quality obviously is one of the things that will be enhanced over what the air quality would be were we to continue the growth in traveling through these air and automobile transportation corridors at the same growth rate that we have seen in the past. These and other environmental benefits, as well as social benefits, will be detailed in the Environmental Impact Report.

These types of benefits are equally important, but often unappreciated benefits to a program such as this, and are often not calculated in the traditional cost/benefit analysis. For all of you that I assume will look at the high-speed rail Environmental Impact Report and the plans, please try to keep in mind that there are more than local cost benefits to a high-speed rail system; there are huge, subtle benefits to the state as a whole.

Again, I thank you for having me here, and now I’d like to introduce the Executive Director of the High-Speed Rail Authority, Mr. Mehdi Morshed. Now Mehdi told me that he didn’t want me to mention much about him, because it embarrasses him, but I’m an attorney. Although I promised my fellow Authority Board members that I would not talk too much at our meetings, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t talk a lot at speeches and meetings, and so I will embarrass Mehdi to some extent.

I think of Mehdi as a Mr. California Transportation, because for the last 20 years in the Senate, everything, literally every policy change and direction in financing for transportation in California, passed through his experienced hands. Many of the initiatives that he worked on during that period really affect us today, from driving rules to vehicle safety and emission standards. He also has assisted in creating what we consider this state’s major transportation agencies: the California Transportation Commission, which coordinates most of the transportation in the state, and the High-Speed Rail Authority, whose program you are going to be discussing today. Mehdi will give us a presentation on where we are today in the development of California’s high-speed rail system.

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