Construction Begins On California's $68 Billion High-Speed Rail Line : The Two-Way Once completed, the line could travel faster than 200 mph and get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours. But the project has only a fifth of the funding it needs.

Construction Begins On California's $68 Billion High-Speed Rail Line

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And California has finally embarked on constructing the first high-speed rail line in America. Ground was broken in Fresno for a line connecting L.A. and San Francisco - in theory, a trip that would take less than three hours at speeds of over 200 miles an hour. NPR's Sam Sanders reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the governor of California, Jerry Brown.


SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: In Fresno Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown, arguably high-speed rails' biggest supporter, had to make a confession.


GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN: I do want to say, you know, when at least I first was elected governor, I had some doubts about this project.

SANDERS: And in some regards, those doubts are warranted. Since a 2008 bond measure approved about $10 billion for the project, construction's been delayed about two years, mostly due to lots of lawsuits. So far, the project has survived. But with that bond measure and about $3 billion in federal funding, the rail line still isn't even a quarter funded. The total cost is projected to be $68 billion. Governor Brown thinks it'll all work out.


BROWN: I wasn't quite sure. Where the hell are we going to get the rest of the money? But don't worry about it. We're going to get it.

SANDERS: Right now, the plan is to get the rest of that money through private investment and other means. But some California lawmakers say even if Brown finds the funds, they won't be enough.

SENATOR ANDY VIDAK: This thing could probably cost over $300 billion.

SANDERS: California Republican State Senator Andy Vidak says the project voters approved in '08 - that's not the project he sees now. It's gotten more expensive. Vidak says the train won't even go as fast as voters were promised. And he thinks the line won't benefit poor Californians.

VIDAK: I've called this a pinata. You know, there's a lot of folks that are going to get down there and grab all the candy. But most of us here in the state are going to get whacked by the stick.

SANDERS: If the high-speed rail line overcomes that kind of opposition and gets all the money it needs, there's still another question. Will people actually use it?

GENEVIEVE GIULIANO: The United States is not a place for which there is a strong market for high-speed rail.

SANDERS: Genevieve Giuliano studies transportation at the University of Southern California. And she says high-speed rail works best when it connects places that are about 100 to 200 miles apart.

GIULIANO: At 400 or 500 miles, it's more difficult to compete with air travel.

SANDERS: Because a flight from L.A. to San Francisco would still be quicker than using California's high-speed rail. But should it work, California's high-speed rail line could greatly reduce carbon emissions and congestion. But it'll take a while. Under a best-case scenario, California's high-speed rail line would be done in 2030. Sam Sanders, NPR News.

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