Why California’s bullet train remains a distant dream

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The state has trying to build a route from Los Angeles to San Francisco for decades. Why does it keep getting derailed?

California’s $77bn high-speed rail project promised “to transform how Californians travel”.

Talk around what was conceived as America’s first bullet train dates back as far as 1981, with the plan centering around connecting eight of the state’s largest cities, from San Francisco to San Diego. In offering an alternative source of transportation, high-speed rail advocates hoped they would finally solve the state’s notorious traffic issue and lessen the subsequent air pollution created by stalled vehicles.

But decades later, the dream of traversing the state in just a fraction of the time it currently takes by car remains a distant – and costly – one.

And on Tuesday, California governor Gavin Newsom declared in his state of the state address that “the project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long”.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, the state-run organization tasked with overseeing the project, came into fruition in 1996. It spent years developing a plan of construction and operation in preparation for a ballot measure approving the project.

In 2008, voters approved almost $10bn in funding for a plan to to lay down hundreds of miles of new track, built upon elevated viaducts, to support a fully dedicated high-speed rail system.

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