I'll Be Working on the Railroad: California's Bullet Train Gets on Track
The on-again, off-again bullet train connecting San Diego to Sacramento and San Francisco is on again -- for now. Today the state of California formally applied for $4.7 billion in federal stimulus money to construct the line in several segments. (The two-pronged route roughly resembles the constellation Scorpius.) The main selling point can be distilled into a single sentence: Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes. At a press event held at Los Angeles' Union Station, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was joined by Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who also serves as chairman of the train project's board of directors; both touted the proposed undertaking's creation of one million permanent and temporary jobs, as well as other economic benefits.
In an age of downsizing and ever-lowered expectations, a clean, pharoanic project like a bullet train is bound to capture the California imagination. However, Angelenos, having been raised on Chinatown conspiracy stories, may be forgiven a certain amount of cynicism. The California High Speed Rail Authority's interactive Web site makes a trip from L.A. to S.F. look incredibly cheap and "green," but how many people would actually take a bullet train, given that it's still almost three times slower than a plane and progressively more expensive than a car with two or more passengers? Wouldn't more people in the state benefit from $4.7 billion dollars being spent on repairing our current, crumbling infrastructure, building hospitals, rehiring laid-off teachers and rescinding college tuition hikes?
Even the enthusiasm of supporters who desperately want the express will be dampened by the short-changed memories of local rapid transit projects: of how the trains' promised speeds never pan out in reality, the interminable length of time it's taken L.A.'s light rail/subway routes to materialize -- and the cruel trick of routing the Green Line to skirt LAX. We may also be tempted to view the train's route as a potential 800-mile NIMBY right-of-way paved with decades of law suits.
Ah well, we gotta start somewhere, sometime, so it might as well be now. All aboard?