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Opinion: High-speed rail needs higher-speed process

MODESTO, Calif. -- California needs high-speed rail.

That's becoming increasingly evident as freeways become more clogged, as the air becomes more polluted and as the future of the airline industry becomes more uncertain, according to an editorial in the Modesto Bee.

Project what's happening today a few years down the road, and it's clear that developing a high-speed train is a sound and necessary investment in California's future.

Thanks to state Sen. Jim Costa, the push for high-speed rail is picking up momentum. The Fresno Democrat steered his measure through the final, frenetic days of this legislative session, gaining final approval Friday night for a proposed $10 billion bond measure -- aimed at the November 2004 ballot -- asking voters to put fast trains on track.

The Assembly and Senate have sent the bill to the governor's desk for signing. We hope Gov. Davis gets aboard.

The new trains and railbeds the bond measure would provide would mean speeds of up to 220 mph on the longest stretches between stops. The trains could make the trip from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in about three hours. Every train load would mean less traffic and dirty air.

We shouldn't forget that Sept. 11 demonstrated how dangerous it is to have all our long-distance transportation eggs in the air travel basket. When travel time to and from airports is factored in, plus increased time spent going through security procedures, airline travel won't be any faster -- and may be slower -- than the high-speed trains.

One economic benefit is likely to be cuts in air fares, another is the thousands of construction jobs and ongoing maintenance and service jobs that high-speed rail infrastructure would entail.

Remember, too, that driving often is full of aggravations that simply don't apply to train travel. It is dangerous, for instance, to try to do business on the phone while driving a car. On a train, it's both safe and easy. And anyone who has leaned back and relaxed during a train ride through thick valley fog knows how much safer and less stressful that journey is than by car.

Costa's measure, if backed by voters, would provide high-speed rail service between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, crossing into the valley south of Merced. A likely route into the valley is over Pacheco Pass west of Los Banos.

Later, if voters are willing to back as much as $25 billion in additional funding, new trains would blaze through the valley on their way between Sacramento and San Diego, with Modesto a possible stop on the route. A link between the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area through Altamont Pass is a definite prospect.

There wouldn't be stops in every city, of course. That would defeat the purpose of high-speed rail. But Costa's measure includes nearly $200 million for upgrades on Amtrak and commuter rail routes.

Bert Cofer of Modesto wrote a letter to the editor a while back. He was advocating high-speed rail and stated, "Each year that passes and we only talk and plan, debate, and do nothing, highways become more impacted, the time to travel by air from one end of this state to the other increases, and the obvious solution becomes ever more expensive."

We agree. We hope Gov. Davis does, too, and makes sure that Costa's measure is on the 2004 ballot by signing it now.

It's in the best interest of everyone in the valley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

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