California's Cities Should Look to Oxfordshire

California, now in the midst of a heated debate on high-speed rail, could learn a thing or two from a few small villages in England about consolidating their opposition. Residents from five villages in Oxfordshire created the Villages of Oxfordshire Opposing HS2 (High-Speed Rail 2) action group to voice their concerns about the proposed project.

HS2 would link London and Birmingham by 2025, going through Finmere, Mixbury, Fingford, Fulwell, and Newton Purcell in north Oxfordshire. Not only would the rail line greatly alter the countryside landscape, but it would also create an immense amount of noise pollution. Trains would run through these villages at 250 mph about every three minutes. On top of that, rail authorities are giving out little information to citizens who are growing frustrated.

The Chairman of Villages of Oxfordshire Opposing HS2, Bernie Douglas, wants the group to influence rail authorities to route the line away from the area and raise awareness about the detriments of a high-speed rail line in the countryside. He has certainly succeeded in the latter goal. The group’s meeting in April drew more than 80 people from an area with only 100 homes. However, their efforts for the former cause have been largely in vain. Transport Minister Phillip Hammond and HS2 Ltd, the company behind the project, have not responded to the group's letters.

There is hope for Oxfordshire, though. A spokesman for the Department of Transport claims that “No final decision will be made on whether to proceed with a high-speed rail line or on its route until any scheme has undergone a full public consultation.” If this is true, it is almost certain that the rail line will not run through Oxfordshire.

Cities on the Peninsula have similarly started to band together to oppose the California Rail Authority, who has decided against using the much preferred trench system to cut costs, but opposition remains scattered throughout many different groups. Lawsuits from a few cities and organizations have driven the authority to reconsider the trench system, but the project seems like it will continue to progress, much to the dismay of many unhappy California residents.

Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton, who are at the forefront of the opposition, need to gather support from other cities on the Peninsula to truly affect the future of high-speed rail in the state. It is easy for the California Rail Authority, backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, to defend its position from a few cities, but a united Peninsula coalition would be a tough obstacle to overcome. Maybe Burlingame, San Mateo, and their neighbors should take a page out of the book of Oxfordshire and use collective action to more effectively voice their concerns.

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