A top transportation official said Wednesday that the United States must remain dedicated to building high-speed rail systems to confront pollution, population increases and competition from rest of the world.
Ron Diridon, chairman of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association's advisory board in Washington, D.C., said that California in particular is faced with a population that will hit 65 million in 2060 and so has to develop new, clean mass transit systems.
"We can't expand our freeways anymore," Diridon told a meeting of the San Jose Rotary Club in downtown San Jose. "We can't double deck them. We
can't expand our feeder streets."
"We just can't do it on single-passenger vehicles," he said. "If we don't have mass transportation, we don't have a Silicon Valley."
Construction on California's planned $68.5 billion high-speed rail system starts this summer with a $990 million phase stretching from Merced in
the Central Valley to Fresno, Diridon said.
He described the state's planned 790-mile rail route, with 26 stations, as "the largest construction project in the nation's history."
Future phases will go north from San Diego to Irvine, Los Angeles and Palmdale and eventually Gilroy, San Jose, San Francisco and then Sacramento by 2029 without crossing any roadways, he said.
The high-speed line, reaching speeds of about 200 mph, would be integrated so that passengers could use existing mass transit venues such as Caltrain, BART and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's light rail trains and buses, Diridon said.
The combination of transit systems would make it possible for someone in Fresno on their way to Paris to check their bags on the high speed
train, reach San Jose in 51 minutes, take a shuttle to Mineta San Jose International Airport and later pick up their bags at customs in France, he said.
"That's the international or national trip of the future, that our airport, because we plan carefully for it, will be able to accommodate,"
Diridon, a mass transit expert and former head of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, said that California
and 32 other states are working on high-speed systems, but the United States still has to catch up with the rest of the world.
Japan has had a 200 mph train system since 1964, Germany, Italy and Taiwan have 200 mph systems in place, France has a 357-mph train and China, with the world's longest rail system, has train cars traveling at 230 mph.
Europe will have a massive set of speedy trains from Scandinavia to Turkey and Moscow to Madrid by 2020, he said.
The United States will find those countries "tough to compete with" because they will be able to get more of their workers faster to markets and businesses at greater distances, Diridon said.