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Ca. high speed rail a display of persistence worth noting in Georgia

California held a ceremonial groundbreaking for a high speed railroad 23 years after then-and-now Gov. Jerry Brown authorized a state study. Credit: hsr.ca.gov

By David Pendered

This month’s groundbreaking ceremony on the nation’s first high speed rail system, in California, provides a lesson in patience and persistence.

California high speed train rendering

California held a ceremonial groundbreaking for a high speed railroad 23 years after then-and-now Gov. Jerry Brown authorized a state study. Credit: hsr.ca.gov

Patience, because federal approval for the corridor was granted in 1992 following a state study authorized in 1982. Persistence, because advocates have overcome obstacles including forceful political opposition, lawsuits, and funding challenges.

This scenario in distant California is of note in metro Atlanta. A new dawn may be breaking over mass transit as Georgia lawmakers prepare to tackle transportation funding once again:

  • Gov. Casey Cagle calls for any transportation plan aimed at relieving Georgia’s mobility woes, “to improve and expand rail transit networks like MARTA,” according to his website;
  • Clayton County voters voted in 2014 for a new 1 percent sales tax to support MARTA’s bus and rail expansion in their county;
  • Proposed passenger rail service to Lovejoy, and eventually to Macon and Savannah, is always on the table, and the transit campaign in Clayton reinvigorated the discussion.
California high speed train map

California expects to complete construction of a high speed railroad by 2029. It’s to link San Francisco with Los Angeles. Credit: hsr.ca.gov

In California, a single governor is widely credited with pushing the project through to its ceremonial groundbreaking on Jan. 6 – Jerry Brown, aka Gov. Moonbeam. Service is to begin by 2029 and provide a 3-hour commute between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Here’s how Brown has characterized his support for the project:

  • “We should be able to have at least one high-speed rail, and the only place that’s going to happen in our lifetime is California.” – washingtonpost.com.
  • “We aren’t all Twitter-holics that have to have instant gratification after 140 characters. We can take a few years and build for the future, and that’s my sense here, that I’m coming back to be governor after all these years. It’s been on my list for a long time.” – politico.com.

It was in 1982, in Brown’s final year of his second term as governor, that Brown signed the bill authorizing study of the corridor. At the dawn of Brown’s fourth term as governor, he joined in the ceremonial groundbreaking in Fresno.

The corridor approved in 1992 by the Federal Railroad Administration would link San Diego and Los Angeles with the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. The corridor runs through the San Joaquin Valley, a major source of petroleum and agricultural products – and daunting legal opposition.

Kings County (Ca.) and two farmers filed a lawsuit in 2011 to halt the first serviceable segment of the route because adequate funding was not in place. The California Supreme Court rejected the complaint in October. Twelve weeks later, the ceremonial groundbreaking was conducted. Kings County has several other lawsuits pending against the project.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle

Even now, funding for the rail corridor is far from a certainty.

There’s not nearly enough money to build a system with a price that has grown to a current estimate of $68 billion. The amount of ready cash now discussed is about $26 billion.

Even that $26 billion is uncertain. It includes a total of just $13.2 billion in state bonds and federal grants. The remainder is to come from a funding stream of $250 million to $1 billion through a cap-and-trade on greenhouse gases, according to washingtonpost.com.

Meanwhile, metro Atlanta benefitted from groundwork laid in that 1992 federal authorization of California’s corridor. At least, the region benefited on paper.

The FRA approved that year a corridor from Washington to Charlotte. In 1999, the corridor was extended to include Atlanta and Macon. The next year, 2000, the FRA approved a corridor from Atlanta to Birmingham, which would connect the Southeast and Gulf Coast corridors.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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