The silver bullet train - Page 3

High-speed rail would solve the state's most pressing environmental and transportation problems. So why isn't Schwarzenegger supporting it?

"For him not to be behind it doesn't make sense."

Californians also seem to have a hard time fully understanding the project, probably because polls show that only about 10 percent of them have ever used high-speed rail in another country. Yet polls show climate change is a top public concern among Democrats and Republicans.

"Number one, the dollar figure is daunting," Kopp said. "Number two, we're Americans, and we just haven't experienced it."

Yet when the project and its benefits are explained, it doesn't seem to have any opponents outside the Schwarzenegger administration. Morshed said not even Big Oil and Big Auto — two deep-pocketed entities with a history of fighting large-scale transit projects — have opposed high-speed rail. Once people get it, everyone seems to love it.

"The reaction you get almost every time is 'Why aren't we building it?' That's the thing that is universal, people saying, 'Why don't we have this? What's wrong with us?' " Morshed said.

For such a massive project — with construction spanning almost the entire state — it's notable that none of the state's major environmental groups have challenged the project's environmental impact reports, which were certified in November 2005. That's largely because the route uses existing transportation corridors and has stops only in urban areas, thus not encouraging sprawl.

"Environmental groups generally don't like big projects, but they like this one," the Sierra Club's Allayaud told us. "There aren't a lot of negatives that we're having to balance out, and there are a lot of positives."

Yet politics being what it is, other obstacles are likely to present themselves. The CHSRA is now setting the route into the Bay Area, either through the Altamont Pass or the Pacheco Pass, both of which have political and environmental concerns.

Morshed — an engineer who served as consultant to the Senate Transportation Committee for 20 years before heading the CHSRA — expressed confidence that the project will happen if the state's leaders support it: "It's moving ahead, and we have very good support in the legislature. The only soft spot is the governor, who wants to postpone it and seems to have other priorities." *