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California just officially broke ground on America’s first bullet train

CRH380 (China Railway High-speed) Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province, early December 25, 2012. China will open the world's longest high-speed rail line this week when a link between Beijing and the southern metropolis of Guangzhou is inaugurated, officials said on Saturday, underscoring its commitment to a trouble-plagued transport scheme. Rail investment slowed sharply in the wake of that accident and state media reported earlier this year that the government had cut planned railway investment by 500 billion yuan ($80.27 billion) to 2.3 trillion yuan under a five-year plan to 2015. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: TRANSPORT SOCIETY BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTR3BVZM
China’s Harmony bullet trains can move.
By Zach Wener-Fligner

2014-15 Fellow. Quartz Things team.

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In 15 years, the almost-400 mile trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles may take no more than three hours aboard America’s first bullet train.

The construction of California’s high speed rail system, which has been discussed for over two decades, finally got underway at an official groundbreaking ceremony yesterday, hosted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority at the future site of a planned station in Fresno, CA. The Los Angeles-San Francisco portion of the railway is expected to be completed by 2029, with plans to eventually extend the line north to Sacramento and south to San Diego.

It will be the fastest rail system in the United States, comparable to the Japanese Shinkansen, the French TGV, and the Chinese Harmony express, all of which routinely travel over 200 mph. The fastest train line in the US right now is Amtrak’s east coast Acela Express, which has a top speed of 150 mph, but usually goes slower.

High-speed rail doesn’t come cheap. The total cost of the California project is estimated at $68 billion, most of which will come from the federal government (pdf). According to The World Bank, this works out to $56 million per kilometer, double the cost of similar lines in Europe and triple the cost of China’s Harmony express.

But while critics say costs are too high and bound to balloon, proponents say the system will provide an invaluable transit network that will relieve the burden on airplane routes and highways.

Moreover, trains are coming back in style in the US. From 2001 to 2013, Amtrak ridership increased 51%, as more Americans look to rail as a refuge from congested roads.

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