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Under California's New Governor, the Proposed Bullet Train May Get Cheaper but Also Dumber

Gavin Newsom wants to build only the top half.

Bullet train constructionGary Reyes/TNS/NewscomIs half of a transportation boondoggle better than the whole thing? Or does that simply highlight how stupid the entire project is in the first place? When it comes to California's bullet train, residents may be about to find out.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom handily won the race to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, defeating Republican John Cox 60 percent to 40 percent.

Newsom didn't say much whle he was running about the fate of the California High-Speed Rail project. This effort has been a complete disaster since voters approved a $10 billion bond in 2008 to start a first leg of a train that is supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours. Costs have ballooned for just the very first (uncompleted) leg in the Central Valley, from $6 to $10 billion. Estimates for the entire project have jumped from $64 to $77 billion—and really, if the entire thing ever is fully built, it will likely cost well over $100 billion.

The entire project has been handled dishonestly. Proponents have insisted that it would bring in private investors and would not be a drain on the taxpayers. There's no sign any of that is actually going to happen or that the train will be able to operate without significant government subsidies.

Newsom actually spoke out against the project's continuation in 2014. But when he decided to run for governor, he shut his mouth about it. He actually refused for two years to discuss the train's future with the Los Angeles Times.

In October, he finally made a decision. A "split the baby" compromise that will probably satisfy nobody, it highlights how little the project matches what was sold to voters. Newsom told the Times that he intends to scale the bullet train back and only continue construction on the northern half of the line. The rest of the train—from the San Joaquin Valley down to Los Angeles—will have to wait until it can "attract more money from taxpayers or private investors."

Newsom insists that a bullet train that only transports people from San Francisco to Fresno is not a "train to nowhere," and that it would allow tech workers to commute to Silicon Valley from Merced, Modesto, or some other outlying community.

This fundamentally means that Newsom is demanding that the citizens of all California pay to solve San Francisco and Silicon Valley's housing problem for them instead of doing what actually needs to be done to make the city affordable—build more housing.

Californians were sold this train as a way to quickly traverse the length of the state. They were also sold it as something that could be used by many citizens, not just a chosen few. Granted, this was always a little absurd itself. The ticket prices to ride the train aren't actually going to be cheaper than taking a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, making for an expensive "commute." Still, a large cross-section of California's population was supposed to have access to the train, and that was supposed to justify statewide funding for it.

Newsom's plan ends up exposing what the train was really all about in the first place. There's very little need statewide for high-speed rail. It was intended to benefit a very select group of people—particularly those being paid to build it—on the public's dime.

So is half a bullet train preferable to Jerry Brown's stubborn insistence on building the whole thing? In the short term, at least, Californians will be spared the idea that the state is willing to blow billions on a project of dubious benefits.

But there's going to be a massive sunken-cost temptation here. If the top half of the train is built, there's going to be a lot of pressure to keep it going. And if the top half is not successful, many folks will say that the problem is that the train doesn't go all the way to Los Angeles.

For that matter, the ballot initiative Californians voted on was specifically for a train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The construction has already made a mockery of the text of the initiative, but Newsom's plan does not even remotely resemble what voters endorsed.

There may be a big upside to Newsom's approach, though: He is acknowledging that California simply cannot afford to build what was promised. A ballot initiative being proposed for 2020 would stop any more spending on the rail project. Newsom's concession that the state doesn't have enough money to build the whole thing could be used as ammunition to kill it off at the ballot box.

Photo Credit: Gary Reyes/TNS/Newscom

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  • Bender B. Rodriguez||

    I like choo choos. Will you buy one for me?

  • Arizona_Guy||

    Progs love their choo-choos. Usually justified by some "well in Europe...." argument.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    If we don't switch from cars to trains, we'll never elect the type of presidents who make the trains run on time.

  • JonFrum||

    What we have here is the Government-Activist-Industrial Complex in all its glory. I can well imagine a future Ted Kaczynski type waiting for them to finish any part of this cluster-fuck and then taking down enough of it to do huge damage.

  • BYODB||


    Californians were sold this train as a way to quickly traverse the length of the state. They were also sold it as something that could be used by many citizens, not just a chosen few. Granted, this was always a little absurd itself.


    Look, those voters were promised a god damn unicorn and if you don't nail a horn onto a fucking horse they are going to be livid at this breached promise!

  • ||

    But, we're good with nailing a horn to half of a horse, right? I mean, that still counts, right?

  • Griffin3||

    If it is the back half, yes.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    The back half? Count me in. I'll nail anything with my horn once. Ok, twice.

  • CE||

    Meanwhile you can already fly Southwest from LA to SF for 50 or 60 bucks each way (if you book a week or 2 ahead), in an hour, on dozens of different flights per day. LAX/Burbank/Long Beach/Ontario/Orange County each offers multiple non-stops every day to SFO/San Jose/Oakland.

    Sure you have to get to the airport an hour early, but it's quicker than driving to Fresno.

  • shortviking||

    You also have to be molested by TSA

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Win/Win.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

  • ||

    Well - Fresno does suck.

    But thank you for that - it is a thing of beauty.

  • Gray_Jay||

    That is an amazing collection of clips. I'd no idea that it was the go-to in Hollywood for "hick-ville shithole."

    There was a miniseries, in the 80s I think, with Tim Conway called "Fresno," playing off its being dead last in some "Best Cities in America" list.

    Here we go: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090435/?ref_=tt_urv

    For as bad as Fresno is, Stockton is 10 times worse.

  • ||

    This is why we do not mention Stockton, even in jest.

  • Cy||

    It's like California's own little authentic piece of Mexico.

  • ||

    It's the rotting hulls of abandoned buildings that gives it that touch of authenticity.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    Did anyone ever go to Fresno?

  • NealAppeal||

    I left Fresno...but go back to visit family. Honestly, though, the city isn't that bad. It has it's bad spots, a poorly thought out freeway system, and too many people, but it has good restaurants and things to do for everyone...just plan on driving around most of the time as nothing is really close, as in walking distance. Also, drive east an hour-and-a-half and you are in the high Sierra's with hardly anyone else around. Drive two hours west and you are at a beach. Easy day trips. Don't get that much anywhere else.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Ha. I have a vague memory of that as a kid.

  • Juice||

    I didn't realize that government had to "attract" money from taxpayers.

  • ||

    They use really, really strong magnets.

  • CE||

    Mostly they put the request on ballot measures and the voters approve them, thinking the bond holders are funding the stuff.

  • Arizona_Guy||

    The good news is you can take a train to Fresno.

    The bad news is that you'll be in Fresno.

  • ||

    The good news is you can take a train to Fresno.

    Of course, you can already take a train to Fresno . . . but, yeah. Fresno sucks.

  • CE||

    But when the train is complete in several years, you will be able to afford a house in Fresno and work in San Francisco. Except this will undoubtedly drive up the prices of homes in Fresno, so then you'll have to move to Lodi.

  • ||

    Newsom insists that a bullet train that only transports people from San Francisco to Fresno is not a "train to nowhere," and that it would allow tech workers to commute to Silicon Valley from Merced, Modesto, or some other outlying community.

    I don't believe that Gavin has pledged to bring the train to San Francisco. Last I heard he was saying to the Bay Area.

    One of the basic issues when this was floated in the first place was that there was no route identified to get the train over either the Diablo Mountains or the Transverse Ranges (i.e. the Grapevine). If BART gets extended to Antioch, my money says the train winds up coming into the "Bay Area" via Stockton/Brentwood and stops at Antioch, or maybe Martinez (already an Amtrak station there), where you'll have another hour-long BART ride to get to San Francisco.

    And Gavin being Gavin, it's worth pointing out that San Francisco is not Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley proper is another 45-minutes-to-an-hour south, and the BART don't go there. Now you're getting off BART in SF and transferring to CalTrain for another hour - so three trains will get you from Modesto to SV (what would normally be about a 2, maybe 2-1/2-hour drive, even with traffic).

  • ||

    On a side note, it's a little unfair to refer to Fresno as "nowhere," since if you plunked it down in almost any other state it would be one of the biggest, if not the biggest city in the state, but yeah - we already have a train that runs from Oakland to Bakersfield where you have to get off and a take bus over the mountains to get to LA. At this point, the bullet train adds exactly nothing to that.

    Gavin's plan is the worst of both worlds - "this is pointless, but we're going to build it anyway." Cox ran on "pull the plug - now," which is the smarter plan, IMHO.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    The population of San Francisco is about the same as the population of Bergen County, New Jersey, and New Jersey is famous for having only two cities: New York and Philadelphia. But let's be real. Philadelphia is an exurb of New York.

  • NealAppeal||

    Yes, moved from there to the midwest for a few years and the state capitol is smaller than Fresno. We'd just go into town to kinda remind us of our hometown with all the pockets with run-down neighborhoods/malls, 'revitalized downtown', and a crappy Triple A ball team. And of all the Central Valley towns Fresno really is the best...I mean Stockton...no need to point out...Bakersfield is trash...Modesto area might be the closest but is kinda just a smaller Fresno.

  • Gray_Jay||

    "Silicon Valley proper is another 45-minutes-to-an-hour south, and the BART don't go there."

    Which is absolutely insane. It's amazing that CalTrain, MTA, BART, and the rest of the acronyms for separating you from your car and your wallet, couldn't work together better.

    Send the train over 580. Bonus points if the windmills power it.

  • CE||

    There's a nice light rail in the southern part of Silicon Valley, but it leaves you a mile from the San Jose airport, for some reason.

  • Sevo||

    CE|11.9.18 @ 4:14PM|#
    "There's a nice light rail in the southern part of Silicon Valley, but it leaves you a mile from the San Jose airport, for some reason."

    Easy. It was designed by people who steal money and don't care about the people riding the thing.

  • Gray_Jay||

    "Silicon Valley proper is another 45-minutes-to-an-hour south, and the BART don't go there."

    Which is absolutely insane. It's amazing that CalTrain, MTA, BART, and the rest of the acronyms for separating you from your car and your wallet, couldn't work together better.

    Send the train over 580. Bonus points if the windmills power it.

  • Gray_Jay||

    "Silicon Valley proper is another 45-minutes-to-an-hour south, and the BART don't go there."

    Which is absolutely insane. It's amazing that CalTrain, MTA, BART, and the rest of the acronyms for separating you from your car and your wallet, couldn't work together better.

    Send the train over 580. Bonus points if the windmills power it.

  • Gray_Jay||

    Jeez. Do I need to apply for a tax stamp?

  • Bubba Jones||

    I always loved that the progressives in silicon valley would never tolerate a BART station in their towns.

    CalTrain was ok, because you could commute to SF without somehow letting the riffraff in.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    In 2016, the total real estate value of San Francisco was a bit over $200 Billion. It would have been cheaper to rebuild San Francisco closer to LA.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They could shut down half the offshore drilling in the US if they just tap into Newsom's head.

  • Aloysious||

    Under California's New Governor, the Proposed Bullet Train May Get Cheaper but Also Dumber

    Thank goodness. Something else to mock Californians about.

  • ||

    I actually wish our state government would slow-roll these things a little more. They're going to hurt people in the name of getting yucks.

  • Aloysious||

    I live in Idaho. There are so many Californians moving into the Boise area you wouldn't believe it. Growth projections are through the roof. Of course, home/property values as well. Followed by wretched property taxes, which pisses me off the most out of everything.

  • Cy||

    Just wait until they start firing up their voting machines.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Knuckle up, because pretty soon it'll be gun control and homeless people.

  • ||

    Watching people try to impose gun control on Idaho will be interesting.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Beto ran on banning semi automatic rifles. In Texas. And got 49% of the vote.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Look,I keep apologizing for the stupid people in my state. I can't apologize more. I have to blame Cruz for being such an unlikable asshat.

  • ||

    There are so many Californians moving into the Boise area you wouldn't believe it.

    I know several people who have relocated to Boise in recent years. Have started actually thinking about it, myself. It sounds nice.

  • Steve Hogan||

    "Under California's New Governor, the Proposed Bullet Train May Get Cheaper but Also Dumber."
    That's because our new governor is Cheaper, but also Dumber.

  • ||

    That's because our new governor is Cheaper, but also Dumber.

    Dumber, yes, but cheaper?

    I actually don't even think this is an accurate characterization. If the original price tag was for a train going from SF to LA, and we're now only paying half but not getting a train from SF to LA, is that actually cheaper?

    If I wanted to buy a car for $10k, but I wound up paying $5k and only getting the front half of the car, is that cheaper?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    No, this is the used car salesman coming back after you agreed to buy a car for $10K and telling you he doesn't have a whole car, but he can sell you half a car for $5K. If you actually agree to this nonsense, by the time you actually pick it up, you will get an engine and two tires and will have paid $7K.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If I wanted to buy a car for $10k, but I wound up paying $5k and only getting the front half of the car, is that cheaper?

    Considering the full California politician-designed car wouldn't have worked correctly in the first place, yes, it's definitely cheaper.

  • ||

    Okay - good point.

  • Remember to keep it all polit||

  • ||

    You know, I read somewhere that John Fogerty to this day has never been to Lodi. Which is odd given that Lodi is only about an hour out from his hometown of El Cerrito. And has excellent Zinfandels.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    You know who else was from El Cerrito?

  • ||

    Tom Fogerty?

  • Cy||

    Proggie's and their love of trains. Another horrifically illogical hill they love to die on.

    Going over some mountains a few hundred miles away? Get in a fucking plane you god damn commies!

  • Arizona_Guy||

    They can drive on the I-5 like some goddamn peasant.

  • ||

    And the fact that we are blowing all this money on this stupid, useless train instead of adding another desperately needed lane to I-5 beggars belief.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    To blow that much money on I-5, they would have to add 8 lanes and extend the route by 500 miles.

  • ||

    No doubt. Which means that we could have expanded I-5 and added lanes to SR99 between the urban areas. Instead we'll have a mostly-empty train from which you can wave at the mostly-empty Amtrak train that's passing you on the parallel track, slowly rolling past the gridlocked cars on the freeway.

  • Bubba Jones||

    For $100B they could probably add a couple lanes and embed them with some sort of tech to assist autonomous cars.

  • DenverJ||

    Gavin Newsom wants to build only the top half.

    Well, laying the tracks is the most expensive part.

  • ||

    The top half is practically free!

  • DenverJ||

    I mean, whadda ya got left, some signal lights and crossing gates?

  • CE||

    They already put those in.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    But will he use Reardon steel?

  • CE||

    Half a train is way worse, but costs the same (as the whole thing was supposed to cost).
    You spend all the money, but it doesn't go anywhere.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez||

    It's a shame they don't have a train that runs to the state's most well known attraction: the money hole.

    If you love your country, you throw you money in its hole.

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