What is the California Bullet Train?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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The California bullet train is an alternative name for the proposed high-speed train system being planned for the large state. Linking the major northern cities to Los Angeles and San Diego, the California bullet train received voter support in 2008 to begin formalized planning and construction. This high-speed line is not without its critics, however, and many detractors suggest that it will never truly become a valid competitor with air and car travel.

California, one of the largest states in the US, stretches nearly 800 miles (1287.5 km) down the Pacific coast. The enormous size of the state has lead to three geographically distinct metropolitan areas: the coastal San Francisco/Oakland area in the north, state capital Sacramento in the north-central part of the state, and the sprawling cities of Los Angeles and San Diego in the south. With business and recreational travel between the areas being extremely common, a high-speed rail line between the cities seems to many a practical concept.


One important question surrounding the California bullet train controversy is why there isn't a train line already. Although trains do exist in California, there is no consistent line between the northern and southern cities, and ground mass transportation across the state often requires bus and train transfers that the slow the journey. The state was built primarily for automobile transportation, yet few anticipated the immense population that California would accumulate. The state's population explosion in the late 20th century and the lack of a major mass transportation system linking the largest cities combine to create one of the most severe traffic congestion problems in the United States, leading to increased demands for the California bullet train.

When completed, the California bullet train will travel north from San Diego, through Los Angeles, and split into two branches servicing Sacramento and the Bay Area. By implementing the newest high-speed train technology, the 440 mile (708 km) journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles is predicted to take two to three hours. While slower than the 40-50 minute plane journey between the two cities, the California bullet train will also likely be less expensive, and is considerably shorter than the six to eight hour drive required.

Proponents suggest that the train will boost the economy by creating thousands of new jobs and providing fast, safe, and cost-effective travel between major cities. According to some experts, the train will also help to ease California's traffic headaches and be an environmentally friendly form of mass transportation. In 2008, California voters largely supported the plan for the train by approving Proposition 1A, a state measure that allocated nearly ten billion US Dollars for the construction of the railway.

Detractors suggest that the train will cost far more than is currently estimated, and may never take off as a major form of mass transportation. Some suggest that the estimated travel times are unattainable through current technology, and that the environmental concerns could only be met if the train proves as popular or more popular than proponents claim. Yet regardless of this controversy, construction on the California bullet train is tentatively set to begin in 2011.


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