Imagine being able to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours by train instead of over six by car. From the comfort of your high-speed rail carriage, you'd see the countryside whiz by at 220 mph, much like passengers do in countries such as France and Japan.
This fantasy was what Californians overwhelmingly voted for in a ballot measure known as Proposition 1A. It calls for spending $68 billion on a north-south high-speed rail project that will bring jobs and economic benefits to the state while easing traffic and pollution. Yet five years later not a single piece of track has been laid in what has become a controversial project—one that a majority of Californians now oppose and others believe is already dead.
Fifty-two percent say they oppose the bullet train and consider it a waste of money, while just 43 percent support it, according to a recent USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll. Back in November 2008, however, a majority of voters supported Prop 1A. How did this reversal of fortune happen?
The usual suspects of cost revisions, politics, litigation and delays have hit the ambitious project hard. Critics have assailed it for proposing a so-called "blended approach," in which the bullet train will travel on existing commuter track during some portions of its journey. They say that isn't what was sold to voters, and a group has sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is trying to begin construction without the state funding issues being resolved.
On Friday, Nov. 8, a case was heard by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny in which project backers argued federal money can be used to start the project. Kenny had previously ruled in August that the project was not in compliance with Proposition 1A without a complete plan for funding in place. $3.2 billion in federal grants are now available. A decision is expected within 90 days.
(Read more: Altered route recommended for high-speed rail leg)