California’s High-Speed Rail Project

A goal of the Obama administration has been to promote high-speed rail across the most populous and geographically-dispersed states in the United States. The idea is to adopt more energy-saving initiatives while also helping to improve state’s infrastructure. It is with this in mind that the Federal Government made billions available to various states in the 2008–2010 budget cycles. After the Fall, 2010 elections, several states that had elected Republican governors refused the grants, suspicious that this seed money would not be sufficient to pay for what they viewed as unnecessary construction based on over-optimistic expectations of the need for and use of high-speed rail. One of the states that accepted the money and has moved forward strongly into high-speed rail has been California, which has already begun work on a 65-mile section in the middle of the state, earning the derisive nickname, the “train to nowhere.” This case details the state’s projections regarding the need for high-speed rail, against the views of infrastructure experts and critics who charge that for a state that is already in a severe budget crisis, this is just the sort of project that makes no sense economically or demographically.

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  1. Assess the benefits and drawbacks of the high-speed rail project. In your opinion, do benefits outweigh drawbacks, or vice versa? Why? Justify your answer.
  2. What are the implications of starting a project based on tenuous projections that may or may not come true 10 years from now?
  3. Could you justify the California high-speed rail project from the perspective of a massive public works initiative? In other words, what other factors enter into the decision of whether to pursue a high-speed rail project? Why are they important?

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