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
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?
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
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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?