by Mike Sanford
When it comes to
California's future rail service, imagine traveling like so many Europeans
and Japanese -- cruising the length of California at over 200 miles
an hour. And you don't even leave the ground. Many transportation experts
see high-speed rail as the new California Gold Rush: the necessary people
mover in an ever-burgeoning state.
To that end, a nine-member
commission was appointed by the legislature in 1993 to develop a plan
for a statewide intercity high-speed rail. Just think what it would
be like to travel from Los Angeles to Sacramento in just over two hours
-- or Fresno to San Francisco in little more than an hour.
The only other high-speed
system in the country is Amtrak's Acela Express. It clips along the
Northeast corridor between Washington D.C and Boston at 150-miles-an-hour.
California's so-called "Bullet" train would cover the countryside
at an even faster 200 miles an hour. And it would be bigger -- seven
hundred miles of track linking Northern California to Southern California
and the Central Valley -- something experts say is key to the state's
Many claim that
relieving freeway and airport congestion will increase productivity
and help California stay competitive in a global economy. The Central
Valley is already economically challenged by the sheer time it takes
to travel from city to city. Rail and air travel can be sporadic and
expensive, and business travelers need expediency. For example, to go
from Sacramento to Bakersfield for a day, some business people actually
fly to the Burbank Airport and drive an hour and a half north to the
Southern Central Valley city.
Harvey Hall believes more businesspeople would be attracted to his city
if there was a high speed train service. Hall, who attends all of the
high-speed rail meetings, says a bullet train would also enhance other
forms of transportation. And Ray Bishop, Kern County director of airports
agrees. He says Southern California terminals will become too impacted
to handle even their own passengers.
But you don't build
the world's largest public works project overnight. A system like Japan's
popular Shin Kan Sen -- only larger -- will take 20 years and cost an
estimated $25 billion. Part of that cost will come from a $10 billion
bond measure that goes to California voters in November 2004. With the
state facing major budget cuts, some say it could be a tough sell.
But many say it's
not a question of "if," Californians will be taking the fast