State Still Wants its Bullet Train

Despite years of mudslinging and attacks, people still just want a modern train system in California

Despite all the mudslinging (and the legitimate problems with construction) turns out the people still want their TGV, Shinkansen, etc... Image: CAHSRA

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The Los Angeles Times attacks California’s High-speed Rail project incessantly. The train builders have had problems acquiring land and are now caught in a game of political chess with President Trump. Costs have risen. Misinformation abounds amidst legitimate criticisms.

And yet, despite having huge resources on their side, opponents of the train have failed again to get enough signatures to get a measure on the ballot to de-fund the project. “The measure, endorsed by former San Diego City Council Member Carl DeMaio, did not get the nearly 585,000 signatures needed by the May 28th deadline,” reported KUSI news in San Diego.

You’d think, in a state with 40 million people, this would be a pretty low bar to clear if the project is really as reviled as some newspapers would have us believe.

Workers in Fresno continue prepping rebar for a concrete pour. This is part of a trench that will one day carry HSR. Photo: CAHSRA's twitter
Workers in Fresno continue prepping rebar for a concrete pour. This is part of a trench that will one day carry HSR. Photo: CAHSRA’s twitter

Streetsblog readers will recall it was late last year that DeMaio’s proposition, which “Terminates funding for state’s high-speed rail project”  was cleared by the Secretary of State to begin collecting signatures. DeMaio and his allies had until May 28 to gather signatures from eight percent of the total votes cast for Governor in the November 2014 general election (thus, the 585,000 figure) in order to qualify it for the ballot.

Apparently, despite all the smearing, it’s not possible to convince significant numbers of people in California that continuing to widen highways and add airport capacity is still the way to go, given how badly it’s failed over the years. Moreover, air fares to Europe and Asia are now in reach of most people–and plenty of them have experienced first hand how easy it is to get from A to B in other countries, thanks to High-speed Rail.

Meanwhile, as reported by the Associated Press, the State of California is now suing the Trump Administration to get it to deliver on $1 billion in allotted funds. The money’s being withheld with the blessing of California’s own Republican congressional delegation. The funds aren’t needed for another two years, however, so, in the meantime, the project continues.

  • hackajar

    This has more to do with organization of effort, which he has a history of failing to do, and a record high signature requirement. #justsaying

  • crazyvag

    For those nay-sayers, what’s the alternative plan to reduce CO2 emissions? Is it a combination of waiting for people to buy more Teslas or waiting for battery powered propeller planes to show up?

  • Ben Phelps


  • Guy Ross

    Unless you charge batteries with nuclear (not being considered), moving from petroleum to electric does nothing to reduce CO2 – actually creates more.

    Cars are the problem; not how the are powered.

  • Steve Brown

    “Moreover, air fares to Europe and Asia are now in reach of most people.”

    You can’t be serious.

  • Flatlander

    Maybe in coal country, but this is California. We’re 15% large hydro, 34% natural gas, and 29% renewable (includes small hydro).

    I don’t disagree that cars are the problem for other reasons, but energy generation is something that can be addressed.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    SF to Barcelona non-stop for < $300 on Iberia. Bon Voyage.

  • crazyvag

    We’re already way ahead many other states in making electricity without CO2. Airplanes have decades to go and judging by huge backlog that Airbus and Being have, that industry isn’t getting much cleaner.

  • Guy Ross

    34 % natgas is 100% co2. Add to that the inefficiencies of production and transmission and you’ve got a net gain with e-cars. This is not even close to being disputable.

  • Guy Ross

    Again: net gain for at least the time until you and I die. It’s cars.

  • Flatlander

    You are not as well-informed on this issue as you think…

  • SeaMoney

    There’s nothing wrong with High Speed Rail itself. The problem is poor project management.
    California has no one to blame but itself for its infrastructure woes.

  • mbcls

    why can’t the government mandate that any business that open 10+ hours a day must offer 4 days 10 hours work week. this will cut down 20% traffics.

  • Ethan

    Was this the ballot proposition that would have prevented all the stuff already built from even getting used for anything? All the concrete viaduct would just be empty. There’s a difference between voters choosing to get nothing from the billions spent, vs Governor Newsom’s plan to at least finish connecting the built stuff to Merced so ACE and Amtrak can use it.

  • Ethan

    If necessary change the law about general purpose lanes becoming Express Lanes. A GP can legally become an HOV lane. An HOV can legally become an Express Lane. Changing a GP to an HOV for only a day, then making it an Express has never been tried or tested in court, but give it a try, or just change the law.

    Then uncap the fee to use Express Lanes. Set the minimum fee HIGH. So high that a bus full of passengers pays a little per person, but solo drivers are highly discouraged. Make it borderline expensive for even 3-person carpooling. Then put the third lane down I-5. 300 miles for $3 billion. Convert a GP lane in the Altamont Pass and Grapevine to Express’. In those lanes, order Caltrans to target a minimum of 60 mph, not 45 mph like it does now.

    Meanwhile whether or not you believe this, I’m confident by 2030 (when HSR might just start running somewhere in state) autonomous vans, shuttles, and buses will be good enough for freeway operation. They don’t have to master all of San Francisco. They just have to be good enough for freeways, and getting to and from freeways to transit centers and park-and-rides. If they can also get good enough for suburban Silicon Valley and other well-striped suburban roads, so much the better. Going driverless saves money and makes possible more frequent service and more direct routes with fewer stops.

  • Guy Ross

    Please inform! (Really)

  • Guy Ross

    Because people with 3 day weekend don’t hibernate for that time. Yes, there are many ways to chip around the edges to reduce a few miles driven and make those mile more efficient. ‘ELECTRICITY!!’ only makes co2 worse – but yes, addresses urban pollution values to a degree.

  • Aubrey

    Most people have a thousand dollars of disposable income.

  • Aubrey

    If they want it, they should pay for it.

  • Robert Matthews

    How about, ‘Who cares?’


    There really are battery powered aircraft now … only they are slow and if you have a week or two you could fly across the country … sort of like the early barnstorming days of the early 1900’s … who knows what may come?
    Trans ocean with these planes well that may be later or you learn to swim … a long distance swim. But, the 300 + MPH trains are real now and while the California trains are not yet ready they are a first major step forward with the rest of the 22 other countries who offer faster service than any Amtrak train including the North East Corridor Acela trains.

  • Boo

    we are paying for it. last I checked CA has a high number of young people with well paying jobs and fewer retirees than other states. We’re paying taxes and this is an investment that will stimulate the economy. If you really have an issue with government spending, look at defense:

  • Thanks, Roger. This is really important news I was unaware of:
    “The measure, endorsed by former San Diego City Council Member Carl DeMaio, did not get the nearly 585,000 signatures needed by the May 28th deadline,” reported KUSI news in San Diego.”
    Planetizen posted last October:
    “Proposed California Ballot Measure From Gas Tax Opposition Goes After High-Speed Rail: A follow-up initiative to Proposition 6 would put the brakes on high-speed rail in California and funnel gas tax funds to roads.”

  • Aubrey

    They haven’t funded the train and are instead standing around hoping someone else will.

  • Boo

    yeah I think we can both agree if everyone can stop dicking around it can be funded and built. No one seems to mind that we spend billions to create highways everywhere or for garbage war planes but for some reason a train has everyone in a tizzy.

    This is a bargain if you consider that a sizable amount of air traffic in CA airports is coming from people flying between north and south. This train will save billions that would be spent on airport expansions not to mention it will be a boon to isolated central valley cities, giving them access to higher paying jobs in urban CA.

  • crazyvag

    Well, since you can’t simulate a jet process with electricity, you’ll have lots of slow electric propeller planes flying around. At such rate, why not just take an electric train?

  • crazyvag

    If you’re old, sure. Maybe just stop voting on things that will happen after you die.

    If you have kids or are under 40, perhaps you should care of retake high school science?

  • jcwconsult

    If this extremely expensive boondoggle is ever built, the level of permanent subsidies to fund the build and the ongoing costs will be absolutely eye watering.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Claude

    I make about $20,000 a year in San Diego County. I’m very poor.
    By saving up and buying discount tickets for the off season I’ve been to Japan twice. And I’m planning a third trip.
    On those trips I’ve seen the difference for myself between air travel, local trains and HSR. Guess which one I like best.

  • Guy Ross

    Well, this is a disappointment. I went looking for myself after you politely called me an idiot. Still cant find any evidence that my claims are in any way under-informed. Oh well….

  • Guy Ross

    Wait until you find out about the interstate highway system. It’ll blow your mind, pops.

  • jcwconsult

    The difference will be the ridership numbers versus the numbers of Interstate users. Interstates are about 2.5% of the total road mileage in the USA but carry something like 25% of the total traffic. And, as many people know, if the federal and some state governments had kept the fuel taxes indexed to inflation plus used all the money on the roads, they would be self supporting today.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Guy Ross

    Do we need to discuss ‘lane miles’ again, Jim.

    There is so little substance, knowledge and honesty to your argumentation that I only check in once in a while with you to confirm.


  • Neil_Baker

    Well, at least we’ll have high speed rail between Fresno and Madera.

  • shortfilms

    Japan, China, England, France, well, most of Europe. So why not the U.S.?
    Yes, it might need subsidies, but we subsidize all sorts of transportation options. This isn’t going to solve all problems of mobility, but is a smart addition to the mix.

  • shortfilms

    Bless your heart.

  • Claude

    I notice that your signature is
    “James C. Walker, National Motorists Association”.
    I might, from this, believe that you could have a bias.
    Interstates are and have always been government built, government mandated and government funded, from the very beginning. They penetrate every corner of the nation. Naturally, they carry the bulk of the transportation.
    Trains are rare and difficult to use. The Sunset Limited only runs once a day, three days a week between LA and New Orleans. If the schedule doesn’t work for you, you can’t use the train regardless of whether you want to.
    In Japan and Europe trains are running every hour to every 5 minutes to all corners, making rains easy and convenient. If we supported trains on the high traffic corridors to the same extent that we support highways they would be a lot more popular.
    Saying that people aren’t currently using an asset that the government has suppressed to the point that it’s unusable is not an argument against treating it the same as the government’s favored system.
    And representing a highway motorist association doesn’t make you an impartial observer.

  • jcwconsult

    Europe and Japan are much smaller in geographical areas, and neither had high private car ownership until after WWII. The societies developed very differently for many reasons.

    Fuel taxes at the start of the Interstate system were adequate to support it – and those taxes are the fairest user fees with a cost of only about 1% of revenues to collect. They fell way behind as rates were not properly indexed to inflation and too much of the total revenues were diverted to non-road uses.

    I do have a bias for road use because it is practical and works.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association


An Amtrak train waiting to depart for San Jose from Oakland. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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