California to Get a Tiny, Important Chunk of High Speed Rail

ca high speed railCA High Speed Rail Authority/Public Domain

The California legislature has narrowly voted to release $8 billion in funding for the initial section of the state's embattled high speed rail line. So now it's official; construction will soon begin on the nation's first genuine high speed rail line.

Here's the LA Times:

proponents rejoiced at Friday's razor-thin 21-16 vote, which allocates roughly $8 billion for the first segment of track and related projects. Barring insurmountable obstacles, Californians eventually will be able to ride a bullet train — traveling as fast as 220 mph — between Los Angeles and San Francisco rather than fly or drive on aging highways.
That's the exciting part of the news—it's high speed rail! A sensible, forward-looking infrastructure project in an era of decaying, backwards-looking American infrastructure. Finally.

Here's the less-exciting part: The first segment, when completed, will link Bakersfield and Madera. There are not, I can assure you, a whole lot of people vying to travel at bullet-train speeds the 130 miles between the two. The section was selected for political reasons, as unemployment is high in that region, and the rail project will serve as stimulus.

high speed rail visualizedCalifornia High Speed Rail Authority/Public Domain

But even apart from the Keynesian boost the rail project will provide the local economy, high speed rail is a fantastic idea for California. It's a populous state that's growing ever more populous, it has multiple densely populated cities, and its highways are under serious strain. There's also a horde of inter-state commuters who will be served by the completed project, and congestion will be significantly reduced in the state's major transit hubs.

The project has tanked in the polls lately, but it seems likely that this is more a product of the dismal economic climate and the conservative political zeitgeist than a souring on the actual merits of the rail line. After all, this is the sort of project that voters often come to love after it's up and running; it's a potential source of both serious convenience and significant pride for citizens of a state that considers itself on the cutting edge. And it's bright green; surely a bonus for a state that still cares about the notion.

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