As the High Speed Rail legislative vote nears, we hear arguments for the rail as not only promoting jobs and necessary transportation for a growing population, but a test for California as a forward thinking, cutting edge state. Cost, environmental concerns, and effectiveness of the rail system are all parts of the debate—and they have been detailed from both sides on this site. But will California lose its cutting edge persona if High Speed Rail is scrapped?

A Contra Costa Times article by Mike Rosenberg compared California’s HSR plan to other High Speed Rail systems around the world.

Japan has had HSR since 1964. Rosenberg reports, “A train ride is generally more attractive to Japanese than it is to Californians. In Japan, a 20-mile car ride can take two hours through gridlock and cost $20 in freeway tolls, while a drive of that distance down Interstate 5 in California can take 15 minutes and is toll-free.”

Some twenty-mile sections of the I-5 can also take up to two hours in some circumstances but we get the point. It is not easy to compare the need or background for HSR in California with other parts of the world.

Europe has a culture that embraces rail and China has been putting down miles of track with cheap labor and, undoubtedly, no opposition to government decrees for building the system. The article points to under-construction bullet trains around the world including in India, Turkey, the Netherlands, Brazil and other places.

Is California a backward state if we do not get a bullet train?

Circumstances here are not the same as other locations, as Rosenberg points out. I can’t speak to the business plans of all those nations, but California’s plan has justifiable reams of criticism.

Given our different circumstances, it isn’t right to say California is somehow backwards if the legislators don’t make the commitment to spend taxpayer money on an uncertain project during tough economic times.

California’s claim as an advanced state rests on other technological advantages besides a rail system. The Silicon Valley takes a back seat to no place in technological advances leading the world. Declaring the state’s status as cutting edge won’t be undercut by whether we move ahead or not on one particular project.

Besides, the HSR rail technology could be outmoded before the state sees a train make its first run.

There’s talk of high-speed transportation that can run at one-tenth the cost of HSR and traverse the country from Los Angeles to New York in 45 minutes. It’s a vacuum tube like system: Car sized passenger capsules travel in five-foot diameter tubes on frictionless maglev.

Will it work? I don’t know. Check it out here.

The point is the “cutting edge” label is always changing and one project will not brand California in the eyes of the world.