Opinion

Don't dismiss neighborhood bullet-train critics as NIMBYs

Bullet train solution: Run the tracks underground through cities, and on the surface in rural areas

No one, including Gov. Jerry Brown, ever thought that realizing his dream of connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco via bullet train would be simple or quick. But some of the obstacles coming up make one wonder whether the superfast train will ever be built.

The latest railblock is opposition from communities along the proposed route: In cities where the line would run above ground, the locals hate the sound walls and other consequences of running a train above ground. In rural areas, where it would sometimes travel through tunnels, people are against that — for different reasons.

"The growing resistance is coming in part from urban, working-class neighborhoods that are portraying the surface route as an environmental injustice," reports Ralph Vartabedian of The Times. "San Fernando Mayor Joel Fajardo said the surface route would reverse the progress his small working-class community has made in recent years, splitting the city in half with a 20-foot-high sound wall. The route would cut through the city's downtown, he added, displacing businesses that provide 7% of the city's tax revenue." 

Noise and vibrations are other worries that might affect tens of thousands of Californians.

Out in the suburban and rural areas, residents and officials have other concerns, according to The Times.

"Critics of the underground routes include residents who depend on wells fed by forest aquifers, along with neighborhood groups concerned about the disruption large tunnel boring machines could cause. … Critics say subsurface routes would traverse complex fault zones, gas deposits, abandoned mines and water basins important to Southern California's water supply."

If you can't run trains above ground, and you can't run them underground, where the heck can you run them? My cartoon suggests one solution.

I've seen how high-speed rail has transformed other countries, including poorer ones such as China, so I support the project. America is ridiculously behind when it comes to infrastructure. The lack of decent rail transportation is Exhibit A for those of us who rant about the Third Worldification of our once forward-looking country, now crumbling while we spend billions on missiles and bombs where we have no business.

Still, community opposition isn't just NIMBYism. Trains can and do cause problems, as residents of Philadelphia witnessed recently, and as California has in recent years. In New York, test scores went up at schools near elevated subway lines after the transit authority repaired tracks to reduce the noise of passing trains.

I wonder if the solution is to just make this switch: Run the trains underground in the cities, so no unsightly walls, no dividing of communities. Run them above ground in the countryside, bypassing worries about aquifers and so on.

Gov. Brown, you can PayPal me my 15% consultancy fee.

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