Backers of the rail link say that by getting more cars off the roads it will reduce environmental damage, cut congestion and lower the state’s dependence on foreign oil.
They also say the initial outlay of building the railway will be paid back many times by the economic boost it will deliver in the long run by improving communications in the state.
UC Merced lecturer Dipu Gupta, an architect and urban designer, told the Los Angeles Times high-speed rail benefits all facets of an economy, an effect he referred to as its ability to “lift all boats.”
Not all academics agree with Gupta, however, and recent research, which looked at the impact of Japan’s bullet trains on the cities they passed through since the 1960s, claimed high speed rail did not necessarily equate to more jobs and a better economy.
Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast who authored the study, wrote that the railway “will have only a marginal impact at best” on California’s growth rates.
This analysis seems to be supported by the experiences of another major public works project that also suffered many setbacks in its construction and was frequently labelled a white elephant.
The Channel Tunnel rail link between Britain and France was completed in 1996, coming in 80 percent over-budget. Even to this day Eurotunnel, the private company set up to run the undersea rail link, is beset by debts that resulted in a coup by shareholders three years ago that led to the sacking of the entire board.
Meanwhile, studies of the regions that border the rail link, which connects London and Paris via a 30-mile long tunnel under the English Channel, show that its construction has made little difference to their economic prosperity.
But to focus too much on costs would be to miss a wider point. A marvel of design and construction (the tunnel has been classified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers), the Channel Tunnel has made it possible for commuters to go from central London to the bright lights of Paris in just three hours. Around 17 million passengers now take advantage of this journey each year.
It is impossible to really quantify all the gains in tourism and trade the rail link has ushered in by opening up Britain to continental Europe. Nor will it necessarily be possible to measure the net effect of California’s new wonder of engineering.
But while there surely will be massive gains for the state, only time will show exactly what those are.
State Senate President Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) summed up this future potential when he urged lawmakers to support the project because, “How many chances do we have to vote for something this important and long-lasting?”
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