California’s bullet train project has been a wild ride. In 2008, in the Obama election, state voters approved billions in funding. Shortly thereafter, cost estimates escalated and Republicans took control of Congress, cutting off federal funds. Lawsuits and controversy followed. Eventually, most of the court cases were beaten back, Governor Jerry Brown secured a steady stream of carbon trading revenues, and for now at least, the project is back on track. While the first-phase opening date below is tentative (at best), it now seems likely that before long California will have its own modern railroad built to international standards. Having taken high-speed trains in Japan, China and Spain, I can tell you: It will be worth it. It will be as fast, door-to-door, as flying from the Bay to L.A., but it’ll be far less stressful. Intrastate travel will become easier, more spontaneous; Californians will come to think differently about distances; and before long, the whole state will grow closer. Importantly, this means that economically depressed Central Valley cities will be drawn closer to the wealthy coastal metropolises, with their international airports — and that is a big deal for California, a state that has been increasingly divided not between north and south, or liberals and conservatives, but between rich coastal and poor inland areas.
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