The plan is a visionary one: a high-speed train running from San Francisco to Los Angeles, shortening the journey to two hours and 40 minutes of travel. This system, emulating the success of similar high-speed trains in Europe and Japan, is meant to make the commute between the two major Californian cities drastically easier — much easier than the daunting drive, much faster than the current rail options and much cheaper than flying.
The plan would usher a drastic shift in the way Northern and Southern California interact. In terms of business, the impact on transportation time and the growth of towns on the proposed route could be huge. A project of this magnitude would create thousands of jobs.
But there lies the main challenge for the accomplishment of this ambitious goal: time.
Recent proposed changes might make time an even bigger hurdle than before.
California has set aside $98.5 billion for the system, a gargantuan, state-of-the-art set of tracks running up and down the state. The estimated completion date is around 2025. That leaves around 13 years for economic fluctuation, alternate projects and distraction to prevent the project from coming together as it was initially intended.
The state has already dedicated $9 billion to the program; the idea was to gradually use $2.7 billion over the next few years on a 130-mile segment in the Central Valley.
Even in the early stages of the process, diversions are already becoming a concern.
On Feb. 19, the Los Angeles Times reported that various transportation agencies have proposed to draw an additional $4 billion from that fund to begin upgrading the pre-existing rail systems in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The agencies want to adjust the rails to make them compatible with high-speed trains and older trains, such as Metrolink and Amtrak.
Proponents of this system make a strong argument. By developing these urban bookends for the eventual system, the agencies would assure improvements coming out of the funds that have already been allotted, in case the overall plan succumbs to the many pitfalls it could encounter along the way.
Proponents need to be wary of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though it is in the interest of securing a positive result, this shift creates the kind of distraction that could ultimately cause a project like this to fall apart. The project could undermine itself if it sets a precedent of diverting from the original plan for short-term benefits.
Undergoing a long-term project like this one is risky. Beyond the inevitable chaos that such an extended project will have to endure, the sheer amount of money involved makes people nervous.
No one wants to be held responsible for the high-speed rail to nowhere; no one wants to explain where billions of dollars went in a press conference. Circumstances are stacked against something of this magnitude, and one would imagine the politicians involved are wary of trusting it blindly.
Yet this project has the potential to be great for the state of California, and it should be given a real chance to succeed. It remains to be seen if hedging against potential failure will become a trend — and the proponents of these urban bookends are risking just that.
Daniel Grzywacz is a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and anthropology. His column “72 Degrees and Shaking” runs Wednesdays.