Whitman criticized for opposing high-speed rail

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California high-speed rail would zip riders from downtown SF to downtown LA in less than three hours.

By Brittany Baguio

Although Republican gubernatorial Meg Whitman claims job creation is one of her top priorities, she recently stated that she opposes the plan to build a high-speed rail system in California – a project that is being eagerly anticipated in San Francisco, its northern terminus.

Whitman says the state does not have enough money to fund the project because of the state’s current budget deficit, but labor, environmental, and other groups say it will be a boon to the state's economy and environment. Voters approved Proposition 1A in November 2008, supporting the construction of a high-speed rail system with an initial investment of $9.95 billion in bond money.

Proponents say the project will alleviate freeway and airport congestion and provide a green transportation option that has both short- and long-term economic benefits. According to the California High-Speed Authority website, the project would create 160,000 constructed-related jobs as well as 450,000 more jobs by 2035. The construction of the rail system would also improve the movement of people, goods, and services throughout California and ultimately raise more than $1 billion in surplus revenue a year.

“We are eager to thoroughly brief whoever the next governor is on this project and work with him or her to make California’s high-speed rail system a reality,” California High-Speed Rail Authority representative Rachel Wall told the Guardian.

Supporters of the bullet train disagree with Whitman’s analysis and contend that the construction of a bullet train would create revenue and jobs. In a press release, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said, “In her glossy TV ads, Whitman says she understands the daily hardships facing our state’s unemployed, but it’s clear that’s just more campaign rhetoric. In opposing high-speed rail, she’s shown her true colors on jobs. It’s shocking that a candidate for Governor could be so detached from the economic hardships facing our state’s families. With one in eight Californians out of work, how can we afford not to invest in the creation of hundreds of thousands of permanent, good new jobs?”

Communications director of the California Labor Federation, Steve Smith, believed that Whitman’s opposition exhibited her political inexperience and uninformed decisions. “She’s out there talking a big game about job creation, but no specifics about how she would create jobs,” Smith told us. “Her proposals would be devastating to California and would lead to higher unemployment in California. She says that California can’t afford the project, but what we can’t afford is not to take advantage of improving our economy and environment.”

Whitman isn’t the only one opposing the project. Bay Area cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Burlingame, Belmont, and Atherton have all voiced concerns about the project and the impact of trains move rapidly through those communities, filing a lawsuit seeking to halt the project.

The bullet train project was awarded $2.25 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last January and is currently undergoing supplemental environmental reviews. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2012, with improvements such as rail electrification expected to improve rail service on the San Francisco peninsula even before the high-speed trains start running around 2020.

Assuming the public-private project isn't derailed politically and can raise the estimated $40 billion total cost, the trains will travel at speeds of up to 220 mph and take passengers from the LA Union Station to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal in less than 2 hours and 40 minutes.