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?

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?

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