If you build it …
Indulge me a moment because, in some ways, I’m like the 7-year-old boys and 70-year-old men featured in Melinda Welsh’s “2 hours to L.A.—why not?” on this week’s cover. I, like them, love trains. I was an adult when I took my first train ride—from a Pennsylvania suburb into Philadelphia. I was smitten. “You ride a train into town?” I asked, incredulous. There were also train rides from Philly to New York and to Washington, D.C. Since then, I’ve been on trains in Britain, France and Switzerland. Yes, Swiss trains really do run like clockwork. I’ve never been on a super-high-speed train, but I did spend more than seven hours aboard the Glacier Express, the world’s slowest express train that travels over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels on its way from Zermatt to St. Moritz. And I’m looking forward to the short hop by rail from Venice to Florence I’ll take later this month.
As often as I can, I ride Amtrak from Sacramento to San Francisco. When I lived in Los Angeles, I even took Amtrak to work downtown. Someone else drives and I get to work, socialize, eat, sleep, read … and arrive refreshed.
Ah, but here’s the problem: Californians don’t love trains. Trains mean schedules that don’t jibe with ours and require us to surrender the autonomy of driving our own cars. Besides, people say Californians never will get behind trains that can speed from Sacramento to Los Angeles in just two hours. Except that we have: Just a few years ago, about two-thirds of the state’s voters said they’d support a super-fast train connecting our biggest cities. More than 60 percent were willing to pay for it.
The people want it. California needs it. And if we build it, an estimated 68 million by 2020 would ride it every year.
So, what’s the problem?
Budget cuts have rendered the California High-Speed Rail Authority a ghost of its nascent self, and for a variety of reasons our governor now wants to shelve plans for such a train “indefinitely.”
Read Welsh’s analysis of what’s gone awry, then tell me if you don’t wonder why, after 10 years of study and $30 million dollars, California still doesn’t have its very own bullet train.