When I read that Gilroy Councilman Bob Dillon wanted the council
to officially say
“no” to the Bullet Train, I cheered.
When I read that Gilroy Councilman Bob Dillon wanted the council to officially say “no” to the Bullet Train, I cheered.

Local governments should take a stand against it. No, they have a duty. Why? A multitude of reasons, including the fact that it’s bound to be one of the state’s greatest pork barrel spending projects ever, plus plenty of existing road and rail infrastructure needs attention now and will continue to need it, probably forever.

Most of all, it doesn’t address the problems of the real world, which will be changing, and rather dramatically.

Our state’s population is going to increase, and oil is projected to become scarcer sometime around mid-century. But for long trips with lots of passengers, you can’t beat air travel, and it’s unlikely that it will ever be possible without substantially burdening taxpayers.

When compared to planes, a Bullet Train has such a severe disadvantage that its pursuit seems almost insane: It’s 100 percent inflexible. The route can’t be easily or inexpensively changed, and it usually requires major political wrangling and a couple of decades for any modification to occur.

This morning, a plane can leave from Point A and go anywhere (assuming it has sufficient fuel); tomorrow it can go somewhere else. A Bullet Train can go from Point A to Point B and back again. That’s it. No flexibility, and any damage to the tracks shuts it down completely.

Meanwhile, over the next couple of decades it’s clear that other ways to power cars besides gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engines will become the dominant species on the road. Congestion might not decrease, but hybrid, hydrogen and rechargeable-battery cars will make it possible for Californians to continue their love affair with driving/independence while producing less pollution and consuming far less fuel. And what you use, you pay for.

Currently, our roads need attention, and they’re going to need more, which costs money we don’t have. In addition to the wear and tear from cars, look how many big trucks are on them, hauling everything imaginable.

Look out, because the number of big trucks is increasing, now from Mexico, as well as from the rest of the United States, following increasing population and its consumption of goods. Putting renewed emphasis on using existing railways and reversing the current trend to put more freight on our highways and decreasing the number of long-haul trucks, would cut some congestion and reduce the need for so much road maintenance.

Mechanization has made handling everything easier and more efficient than ever, as shown in container shipping across oceans. Paradoxically, fewer goods travel by train today, entire rail lines have been abandoned, and there are more trucks on the road than ever.

In the South Valley, we’ll need to have to be more aggressive in getting attention and transportation.

A second set of tracks to accommodate more Caltrain trips per day is an excellent start and has been in the works for quite a while. That’s great. But as Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill (and Coyote Valley) become more built up, and as more jobs come into being here, we’ll see an explosive growth in a phenomenon we’ve never observed: a “reverse commute.”

Yep, people will be living in San Jose and commuting down here to work. It’s already happening for some companies, and if public transit is truly going to serve the public, this has to be kept in mind.

Here’s a final question to ponder: If the Bullet Train’s such a great idea, why isn’t private industry jumping into the game instead of leading the cheers? I’m talking about actually running the system, living and dying with a profit motive.

Notice that we currently don’t have much in the way of privately run passenger train systems, unless you count Amtrak, which isn’t worth counting, since it’s only limping along on subsidies.

I’m not saying that viability in the private sector is the only litmus test or that public transit per se is bad, but you’ll notice that the airlines – none of which are owned or operated by the U.S. government – tend to be profitable.

When they’re not, they disappear, only to be replaced by companies that can do the job. They keep upgrading their equipment at no cost to anyone who doesn’t want to use them. They change routes to suit customers’ changing needs and wants. And their fares and infrastructure aren’t subsidized by taxpayers.

A tech writer, editor and web developer, Tom Mulhern is a longtime South Bay resident. He and his wife have been living in Gilroy for two years. His column appears occasionally in The Times.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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