NOT long ago, Barack Obama was hoping that high-speed trains would provide America with the desired “twofer”. First, building the special tracks and locomotives would put a division or two of America’s army of unemployed back to work. Then, once built, the trains would get people out of cars and planes and to their destinations in a way that would be cleaner and use less foreign oil. But those dreams have mostly died. Republicans have decided that government spending, not outdated infrastructure, is the real bogeyman, and Republican governors in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio have rejected federal money to begin building.
Only in California does the dream live on. As Governor Jerry Brown, aged 73 and a Democrat, likes to remember, another big railway project in the 19th century connected the young state to the rest of America. In the 1960s his father, Pat, served as governor and built ambitious aqueducts and highways. In the 1970s Mr Brown himself became governor for the first time, and had visions of his own grand projects. These, as much as his theological bent and his liking for meditation, earned him the nickname “Governor Moonbeam”.
唯有在加州建造高铁的愿望尚存一丝希望。因为73岁的民主党州长Governor Jerry Brown喜欢回忆19世纪另一项宏伟的铁路工程，该工程使成立不久的加州与美国的其它地区相连通。20世纪60年代，Brown的父亲Pat担任州长时建造了宏伟的水道和高速公路，70年代 Brown首次当选州长，并勾画建造自己宏伟工程的蓝图。以上这些加之他对神学的虔诚及酷爱冥想， 因此人们称之为“月光州长”。
Today Mr Brown still sparkles as he mocks the “dystopian journalists” and “declinists” who obstinately fail to see that California’s population will grow from just under 38m now to about 50m in 2030; and that, unless the state has something like Japan’s bullet trains, Californians will choke in traffic jams or go mad waiting for delayed flights in inadequate airports. Of late, he has compared his state’s planned high-speed train to the Panama and Suez canals. And he has added that if China, Germany, Spain and Japan can build one, there is no earthly reason why California shouldn’t do so too.
California’s voters used to agree. In a 2008 ballot measure (before Mr Brown became governor for the second time), they approved $9 billion in bonds to fund just such a train. As advertised, it was to connect the two big population centres, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area. Speeds were to reach 220mph, giving a travel time of less than three hours; the project was to cost $33 billion and be completed as early as 2020.
Then the iron law of infrastructure projects asserted itself. According to current estimates, the train would in fact cost three times as much or more, and take 13 years longer to build. Mr Obama still wants to help; he has asked Congress for $35 billion in railway funding over five years, of which $3.5 billion may go to California. But even with the bond funds, those dollops would cover less than 13% of the estimated cost. Republicans are in no mood to allocate more.
It gets worse. After the ballot measure, it was decided that construction should begin not in the two population centres but in the vast and flat farmlands of the Central Valley, where building is much easier. This means that funds could run dry before the big cities are even connected to the network. A high-speed train would then run through sparsely populated countryside, with hardly anybody riding it. Some call this a “train to nowhere”, others a white elephant. Using a rather more original metaphor Richard White, a professor of history at Stanford, calls it “a Vietnam of transportation: easy to begin and difficult and expensive to stop.”