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Hold the bullet

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A recent HCN story describes a major delay in planning or building a bullet train to link California’s major cities. As someone who has been working to restore and conserve wildlife corridors in Southern California for a decade, I am relieved. The bullet train needs a few more years of planning.

Although you’d never know it from the slick 3-D animations, the rail line would likely become the biggest, baddest, and by far the longest barrier to wildlife movement in the state of California. Yup, worse than a 10-lane freeway, and worse than the steep-sided California aqueduct. A 220-mph train needs rock-solid road beds, protection from crosswinds, no risk of collisions with large mammals, and no access for terrorist saboteurs. That means that except where the track is elevated, in a tunnel, or fitted with a wildlife underpass or overpass, it would be 100 percent impermeable to every reptile, amphibian and mammal (except bats) in the state. Recent research suggests linear barriers should have at least one structure per mile suitable for large mammals, and 5 structures per mile permeable to smaller animals. This can be done, but I’ve yet to hear proponents embrace the need to make the bullet line permeable to wildlife on every non-urban mile or track. Making the bullet train green will raise the price tag well beyond the $33 billion currently estimated.

Yes, the bullet train can help manage urban sprawl, can be part of the solution to global warming caused by the fuel burned by too many cars and airplanes, and can make life more livable for millions of inter-city travelers. I’d like to use it someday. But I don’t want to spend any more tax dollars on it until I see a commitment to build it right for all species in the state of California.

Paul Beier
Flagstaff, Arizona

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