Considered the “father” of modern transit service in Silicon Valley, Rod Diridon Sr. touted how the implementation of high-speed rail would make the Bay Area and California among the most efficient and sustainable systems in the world.
Diridon, emeritus executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, delivered this message during his April 13 presentation at the Rotary Club of Los Altos.
A six-term member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and former North American vice chairman of the International Transit Association, Diridon is chairman emeritus of the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority Board.
Scheduled to arrive in San Jose by 2025, high-speed rail could take advantage of the soon-to-be electrified Caltrain lines for access to San Francisco, Diridon said. The feeder system for serving high-speed rail, he noted, is already in place locally, with BART, Caltrain, Valley Transportation Authority light rail and a developing VTA electric bus fleet.
The threat of climate change drives the need for high-speed rail and other alternative transit options, Diridon said. He cited a study concluding that petroleum-powered cars were the worst polluters per seat-mile traveled, followed by short-hop airplanes and diesel buses. The best solution, he said, is relying on the environmentally friendlier electric-powered trains riding on low-friction, steel wheels on rails.
The best models to emulate, Diridon advised, are the European and Japanese systems, which concentrate high-rise, multiuse buildings around train stations, leaving ample room for open space.
The world’s “800-pound gorilla,” according to Diridon, is China. The country, with nearly 140,000 miles of rail, is gradually converting from coal and oil to an all-electric train system. China now has nearly 10,000 miles of high-speed trains traveling at speeds of more than 230 mph, and projections for double that number of rail miles at 120 to 140 mph to carry both freight and passengers. France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Korea are among the countries with high-speed rail networks.
“We’re falling way behind in terms of the efficiency and sustainability of our transportation systems,” Diridon said.
Congress has approved a comprehensive high-speed rail master plan but has not provided the funding. California’s 500-plus-mile system from Anaheim via Los Angeles and the Central Valley to San Jose and San Francisco is projected to cost $64 billion. The nearly $6 billion portion between Bakersfield and Merced is under construction. A “Valley to Valley” connection from Fresno to San Jose via the Pacheco Pass and Gilroy is funded and awaiting the start of construction within three years.
The next major challenge, Diridon said, is to create the sustainable feeder systems needed to bring the public to train stations. The transport systems feeding the San Jose Diridon Station will include BART and high-speed rail.
In response to a Rotarian’s question regarding lawsuits against high-speed rail, Diridon said all but one of the legal challenges were settled in favor of the high-speed rail project. The courts recently authorized the expenditure of the voter-approved 2008 Proposition 1A, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act.
“Our innovative valley has the opportunity and duty to set the example for the state and nation for fighting congestion and climate change,” Diridon said. “What will you tell your grandchildren in 20 or 30 years? Will you be able to say that you tried as hard as possible to save the world for them ... or could you have tried harder?”
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.