The true price of the California bullet train

Courtesy of California High Speed Rail Authority
Courtesy of California High Speed Rail Authority

Going to school more than 400 miles away from San Jose can be tough for some people, like me, especially if some of us don’t have a car. So, we typically rely on the good grace of our peers and finances to get home either by train, bus, airplane or by hitching a ride with other students we may not know well. One of the modes of transportation I have taken to get back to San Jose (a six to eight hour drive) is in fact the Amtrak. Allow me to give you some insight into the logistics. I get on a bus at the ungodly hour of six in the morning to Bakersfield (about a four hour ride), then I board a train to Stockton (about a four hour ride) and board another bus in Stockton en route to San Jose (about a two hour ride). That’s a whole day on the road. A whole day in which I could have gotten class assignments done. As someone who has been through this, I do wish there was a way I could get to San Jose faster and in less time.

The California High Speed Rail Authority has promised to do just this by proposing to build a high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The so-called bullet train is projected to travel at speeds of up to 200 mph, which means that it can travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about two to three hours. Sweet! Right? Well, sure, on paper it may sound amazing, innovative and a dream come true for students who live in cities where the train may stop, but a further look into the logistics of the project prove it to be a waste of time and precious resources.

Recently, Ralph Vartabedian, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, published an article revealing the truth revolving around the project itself. Some of the biggest concerns with this project are the uber-high budget and environmental concerns, such as digging into unknown earthquake faults.

The current budget for the high-speed rail project is currently set at $68 billion, an already ludicrous price to build this project, part of which relies on funding from taxpayer money. A 2013 study from The Reason Foundation, a public policy research think tank, stated the project relies on “$9 billion in California Proposition 1A general obligation bonds and $3.5 billion in federal grants.” Other sources of funding are unknown for now, but it just seems outrageous that the government is pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into something that isn’t in dire need. That amount of money would be much better off dispersed among our K-12 public schools where they can offer our teachers a more-than-decent, living wage. That money should go toward the growth and development of our communities in need as well as investing in new forms of efficient energy to replace our aging power grid and fixing our infrastructure. Our education and our communities are worthier investments than a high-speed rail right now and both the state and the public should be aware of the greater damage the construction of the bullet-train may inflict.

Part of that thinking is also keeping in mind the wellbeing of our environment. In order to put down the tracks for this high-speed rail, crews have to dig and tunnel into the earth. Being in earthquake country, that digging and tunneling can be hazardous because someone could be digging into an unmapped earthquake fault. Doing so, can induce larger, more powerful earthquakes in the future. Vartabedian mentions that “crews will have to cross … through a jumble of fractured rock formations and a maze of earthquake faults, some of which are not mapped.” Of course, in recent years we have heard that we are due for a big earthquake, and we should reduce that possibility by not harming the Earth in this way. We need to keep the only home we have safe and intact.

While it would be nice to be back in San Jose after a two to three hour train ride, the high-speed rail project sounds far too good to be true, because we are risking the wellbeing of our environment and neglecting the bigger issues that exist in our communities and public schools. So, the project should be indefinitely put on hold so we can focus on the dire issues in our communities now. We all need to make sacrifices, but giving up on this high-speed rail is not the end all, be all.

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