3-Minute Interview: Rod Diridon

The head of the Mineta Transportation Institute is called the father of the modern transit system in Silicon Valley. The proponent of high-speed rail says he is encouraged by a recent poll in which 58 percent of Californians said they would vote for a $9.95 billion bond measure to build the system.

You’ve said, “We are a Third World country when it comes to modern, sustainable transportation systems.” How so? All the other major industrialized countries and many nonindustrialized countries have electrically powered mass transportation. Even some of the emerging countries, like China and India, are retrofitting their rail systems to electric.

How did we fall so far behind? We have become overly committed to the automobile as a result of the interstate highway program. It was good for its time, but has not been maintained properly, and now we are completely clogged going into our metropolitan areas. At the same time, we have neglected our mass-transit program.

Thirty-five percent of Californians say they would vote against the bond to build the high-speed rail system. Why do you think they’re opposed? Any time you talk about spending lots of money for government programs, you’re going to have the anti-spending folks. Those knee-jerk conservatives are probably the bulk of the opposition.

How will high-speed rail make us safer? We killed 43,000 people on American freeways last year, maimed millions and caused billions of dollars in property damage. In the 45 years of operation of the Japanese high-speed rail system and the 25 years of the French high-speed rail system, they’ve not had one fatality in carrying billions and billions of riders.

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