Majority of Californians Still Support HSR

Despite overruns and non-stop pillorying in the press, new poll shows most still want the train built

A Eurostar high-speed train in England. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A Eurostar high-speed train in England. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The majority of Californians still support the state’s high-speed rail project, with 53 percent in favor, and 43 percent opposed, according to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). That’s up from 48 percent in favor when the survey was conducted last year, despite revelations that costs have risen substantially.

Support remains especially strong in the Bay Area, with 61 percent in favor.

It’s amazing that support for the project remains strong, considering the beating it continues to take in the press.

CALmatters columnist Dan Walters, in “Bullet train is a solution in search of a problem,” and the Bay Area News Group’s Daniel Borenstein, with “Jerry Brown’s embarrassing bullet-train bragging to Trump,” were just two of many writers who once again pilloried the project. “The bullet train, however enticing, is not a wise use of tens of billions of transportation dollars. It wasn’t when voters passed Proposition 1A in 2008, and the situation is worse today,” wrote Borenstein in his piece.

The Garces Viaduct in Kern County started construction this month--just the latest piece of HSR to start construction. Photo: CaHSRA
The Garces Viaduct in Kern County started construction this month–just the latest piece of HSR to start construction. Photo: CaHSRA

Long-time opponents, such as Borenstein and Walters, started their recent editorials against the program ostensibly because costs have risen, but then lapse into making the same points they did before the voters approved HSR in 2008. “California has no shortage of transportation problems, but traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles isn’t one of them,” writes Walters in his recent piece (has he ever traveled between S.F. and L.A.?).

It’s also worth noting that the Los Angeles Times wrote about the PPIC poll as it applies to political candidates, but once again conspicuously failed to mention the results of the HSR question. As Streetsblog has pointed out before, the Times deliberately omits positive news and information about HSR.

“Nothing much has changed when it comes to attacking rail in America,” wrote Andy Kunz, President and CEO of the US High Speed Rail Association. “If you dig behind the surface of this, it is always the same–the ongoing influence of the auto/highway/oil lobby in America. They’ve been saying the same things, doing the same things, etc. for decades.”

As Kunz sees it, the continued popularity of the project, despite the media bias and the incessant and often false attacks against it, are an indication that Californians are probably traveling to Europe and Asia and experiencing high-speed rail first hand. They take bullet trains between Paris and London, Tokyo and Osaka, Beijing and Shanghai, and ride top-notch connecting services, and then wonder why traveling around California has to be so slow, frustrating, and unreliable. You can’t keep telling people that HSR will never work to make their lives better and their travels easier when they’ve experienced it first hand overseas.

“The evidence is all around the world, EVERY country that has invested in HSR has benefited enormously, and continues to benefit, while America continues to get worse (in terms of oil dependency, congestion, highway deaths, sluggish economy from sluggish transportation),” added Kunz. “It’s quite amazing how they have kept America stuck in a sort of time-warp of the 1950s, while the rest of the world has bolted into the 21st century.”

Chart: PPIC survey
Chart from the PPIC survey

Of course, many, including the mostly Republican opposition to HSR and writers such as Borenstein, are crying for a redo of the only high-speed rail poll that really matters: the November 2008 vote to approve the project. The argument goes that voters deserve another chance because they were “lied to” about construction costs.

They might have a point–if the PPIC poll had shown public support cratering. But it’s now widely known that costs are higher than original assumptions (in fact, that information was included in the PPIC polling question) and yet there’s been little change in support. That said, Dan Richard, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board, reportedly said that he would not oppose a re-vote on the project in 2020. That may simply be because a second voter affirmation would be a powerful tool to hush opponents (plus the 2020 presidential election is expected to bring out oodles of progressive voters). It would be a risky proposition for HSR, since the PPIC poll also shows that a majority of “likely voters” oppose the project, so everything would hinge on voter turnout.

The PPIC survey conducted interviews with 1,706 adults, including 1,193 on cell phones and 513 on landline telephones. Phone numbers were picked using computer-generated random samplings.

  • If you’re going to say California HSR isn’t HSR even though it meets the Federal definition of HSR, that’s called a lie.

  • Roger R.

    Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliners run seven days a week between LA and SD, from early morning to late evening. There are also Metrolink and Coasters on that line too. Not even counting Metrolink and the Coaster, there are 14 Amtrak trains per day in each direction. They’re not lightly used by any definition of the word “lightly.” Here’s the timetable:

  • Roger R.

    A few years ago I went over the reports in the LA Times. It’s hardly printing news and raising hell:

  • p_chazz

    Opponents don’t want to see transit projects done at all.

  • Roger R.

    You’ve never heard of the shoe bomber or the underwear bomber? Both successfully smuggled explosives onto airplanes, post 9/11. It was shear luck–nothing more–that prevented them from bringing down the planes. Here’s a list of all the bombs successfully brought onto airplanes

    As to the track vulnerability scenario, please list the HSR trains that have been derailed by terrorists. Again, this is hardly theoretical. These trains have been running in Europe and Asia for decades.

  • Richard Garcia

    If California were to pay all of the costs in construction, wouldn’t that give California the advantage and choice in deciding the percentage of the benefits would go to each state? And would Nevada’s only advantage be to dismiss the project? If Nevada would want half, wouldn’t they have to pay half of the construction costs? Wouldn’t there be a guarantee that California receive the same percent of the benefits as the percentage of the construction costs they cover?

  • Richard Garcia

    Wouldn’t California get the same percent of the benefts as the percent of the costs in construction they pay? For all of the benefts to go to Nevada, wouldn’t Nevada have to pay all of the costs in construction?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Wait, so you’re saying that HSR will have *lower* ridership than has ever been predicted, and yet *more* people would be killed in a train explosion than a detonation of the Bay Bridge? Which is it?

    Do you also support a ban on shopping malls and stadiums, and anything else where a comparable number of people would be gathered in one place as a target?

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Uh, the article your comment is on specifically says that proponents *do* want it to go back to the 2020 ballot.

  • Uhhhh, nice try. Here’s the quote: “Dan Richard, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board, reportedly said that he would not oppose a re-vote on the project in 2020.”

    1. He is not “proponents.” He’s the guy who has been lying to us for years about the project. ONE GUY.

    2. He did NOT say he “wanted it back on the ballot.” He said he won’t OPPOSE a re-vote.

    3. By waiting until November, 2020 to hold that election, his goal is to have the project so far along that proponents can claim “We can’t stop now — all we have spent would be wasted.” It’s the “hole in the ground” strategy described so eloquently by Willie Brown.

    But thanks for playing.

  • “The global economy pretty much collapsed.”

    SEROUSLY? Do you have any idea what a global “collapse” would entail?

    In 2009 the advanced economies of the world had a 3.5% GDP drop. Indeed, the WORLD GDP want down 0.1%. The NEXT year both GDP averages roared back. That was it!

    California suffered worse and longer because of our progressive, anti-business policies. It’s funny how you toss around “facts” with such confidence, when you don’t know what you are talking about.

    Sorry I don’t have more time to school you.

  • QuestionQue

    The benefits are Californians traveling to Las Vegas, Nevada to spend money that goes into the Nevada economy. There is negligible benefit from travel in the other direction. Profits from actually use of the rail line are very small and are not the reason Nevada or California will build High-Speed Rail.

  • Bobloblaw67

    it isnt investing, it is wasting money. HSR is now basically political for the left. It is simply too big to fail

  • Bobloblaw67

    incorrect. Trains per mile are much less safe than flying per mile.

  • Claude

    If a high speed train derails it falls on its side and slides to a stop with minimal casualties. The casualties don’t come from the derailment, but from collisions with fixed obstructions such as bridges and retaining walls, in which case the casualty rates can rise to 25% up to 50%, with over 10% fatalities.
    Airplanes, on the other hand, when taken down at speed normally have a survival rate of around 0%.
    If I know the terrorists are targeting transportation I’ll take my chances with the train, where I have a better than even chance of being completely unharmed.

  • Claude

    Same obstructionist slowing down the project to drive up costs, then complaining that it’s late and over budget…

  • Claude

    We had a vote in 2014 when the Republican candidate made his election a referendum on the HSR project.