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The Nation's First High Speed Rail

Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, explains the work that has gone into establishing California's High Speed Rail over the past four years.

Dan Richard is being honored as a Champion of Change for his time and effort developing innovative ways to help grow and expand the transportation industry.  

America’s economy cannot outgrow its transportation system. It is well known that roads, bridges, ports, airports and transit systems must be kept in good repair and upgraded. But more than that, America will continue to grow and must find new ways to provide for the movement of people and goods.

California embraced the notion of a passenger high speed rail system more than 30 years ago. During the ensuing years, the state took small steps to establish an organization to design and construct such a system – common in other parts of the world, but still elusive as a transportation mode in the U.S.

In 2008, two momentous events catapulted the idea of high speed rail into a realistic undertaking. In November of that year, California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond measure that provided the California High Speed Rail Authority with the first tangible funds for construction of the system. On that same day, Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States and would go on to propose a national High Speed Rail network as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With both federal and state financial support, California embarked on the development of a truly 21st Century transportation system.

Unfortunately, things did not go well. The project grew in scope and insufficient attention was paid to community issues as the route was laid out, provoking resistance and resentment. Worse, the planning did not embrace integration with existing regional transit systems.

By 2011, it appeared that High Speed Rail was struggling in California, facing several criticisms in the Legislature and a public that was turning away from the idea in the midst of a deep recession. Yet Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. declared his support for the idea and brought in new leadership for the project.

In the past year, we have worked hard to rebuild public support. The key to moving the project forward lay in forging partnerships and showing that High Speed Rail could and must be part of an integrated transportation system for the state. We have also focused on re-establishing communication with farmers, businesses and communities who could be adversely affected by the project, treating their concerns with respect and empathy. We are fortunate to have stalwart support of the U.S. Department of Transportation and have built a network of support among local transit districts, business organizations, environmental advocates, and others. Essential to this process was developing plans to promote funding not only of high speed rail, but also of vital regional and local projects as part of a state-wide rail modernization.

This summer, the California Legislature voted to move the project forward. Construction will begin soon, putting Californians to work building an integrated transportation network that will be the foundation of our economic success in the 21st Century.

It has been a privilege to lead this effort and to have the opportunity to work with Secretary Ray LaHood and his team and with the broad array of community leaders in California.

Dan Richard is Chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.