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Bullet train: Benefit or boondoggle?

It was the Los Angeles Times that described the scene: California Gov. Jerry Brown and other leaders meeting on a vacant industrial parcel in Fresno to mark the launch of construction of a bullet train, the nation’s first.

The $68 billion line is supposed to connect major population centers up and down the state in one of “the most ambitious public works projects ever.” It’s been a goal of Brown’s for, well, years.

The report talked of how the project “has had to overcome decades of political wrangling, engineering challenges and legal hurdles.”

But with parcels locked up for only about six miles of the first 29-mile segment, maybe there are problems that still remain to be overcome.

Critics note the project is years behind plans, way over budget, $40 billion underfunded, could lose federal funding, still requires approval for some of the route and continues to face judicial battles.

Rail projects in the past have played a huge role in building America. Moving people and freight across long distances, they crisscrossed the country and made families like the Vanderbilts and Morgans wealthy.

But today’s return on investment picture is murkier. Advocates sell rail as clean and efficient. They promise that rail will provide travelers or commuters with a choice that will ease traffic congestion.

In reality, major rail projects often set the low standard for public works projects…