California’s high-speed rail should look like Germany’s: Joe Mathews

November 5, 2015

Will California’s high-speed rail system be German enough?Website Insert Turnkey Packages copy

That may sound funny, but it’s a more important question than the ones Californians have been myopically asking about the costs, funding and construction deadlines of the state’s controversial project.

The value of high-speed rail lies not in costs or speed, but rather in how such projects anchor deep connections — between transportation hubs, cultural attractions, cities and jobs. And German high-speed rail excels at connections.

The secret is German rail stations, hubs that double as vital public spaces where people can gather, shop and be entertained. Many stations are built as bridges — over railroad tracks, or highways — literally connecting neighborhoods.

If California high-speed rail can reproduce the German style and create a system that deeply binds the state together — and that’s a big if — then even a $100 billion project might be a bargain, given the economic and cultural benefits. But if high-speed rail can’t create robust connections, then the worst predictions of high-speed rail critics — that this is an epic waste of money — could well prove true.

In his must-read report for the German Marshall Fund, Eric Eidlin, a community planner with the Federal Transit Administration, compares California’s plans with high-speed rail systems around the world. German cities have integrated planning of rail stations and city centers, and Eidlin praises Fresno for considering its high-speed rail station alongside a remake of Fulton Mall. The report also warns Bakersfield about putting its station outside downtown and away from its existing rail station. And it argues for “blending” high-speed rail tracks with other trains — an aspect of the California proposal that has been criticized for slowing trains down — so they can use the same station platforms and make transfers easier.

Read the full opinion column by Joe Mathews in the Los Angeles Daily News by clicking here.

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