Sorry, Biden’s Still Great for Rail
4:59 PM PST on November 17, 2020
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"Cafe car coffee tastes like mud," might be the LA Times headline in 2029, when the first train starts running on California's HSR system. After all, the paper's reporter on the HSR beat, Ralph Vartabedian, will always find a way to focus on something negative about the project, no matter how positive the news. How else does one explain Tuesday's headline: "Will ‘Amtrak Joe’ Biden bail out California’s troubled bullet train? Don’t bet on it."
Don't bet on it? Seriously?
Earth to Vartabedian: as shown in the lead image, the train station in Wilmington, Delaware is freakin' named after Joe Biden. Biden and Barack Obama took Amtrak to their first inauguration in 2009. To quote Amtrak Joe himself, sorry Ralph, but "This is a big f*cking deal."
First, let's fix the Times's headline; it should read: "Biden's Election Good News for California’s Bullet Train."
As Streetsblog previously reported, there's no question Biden will do everything he can to steer money towards the project. The Obama/Biden Administration enabled it to get started back in 2009. And if the Democrats are successful in the Georgia runoffs in January and gain a majority in the Senate, it's a fait accompli: a stimulus package will get HSR funded all the way to Los Angeles. If they managed to get the project funded in 2009 when it was theoretical, they can sure do it now that construction is underway all over the state.
If the Dems don't take the Senate, of course things get trickier. "If Republicans retain control of the Senate, a possibility that will not be settled until January, any direct help to the California project is doubtful," Vartabedian writes. But as evidence for why, he adds that "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who helped lead the Trump battle against the California project."
So McConnell's wife gummed up HSR and Caltrain, therefore he won't fund HSR?
McConnell won't vote for a funding package that includes HSR unless it's part of a deal and is inexorably linked to something he wants badly for Kentucky. That has nothing to do with who he's married to. But it's something the Democrats can try to make happen.
The takeaway is that when the Trump Administration finally ends, regardless of the outcome in Georgia, Chao will no longer be Transportation Secretary. Chao jammed things up administratively and caused real problems for progressive projects. Anybody Biden picks for that position will be a tenfold improvement and is good news for HSR.
Meanwhile, the Times continues to ignore the fact that every few months another concrete structure gets completed. Over 4,700 workers are already building HSR.
Moreover, engineering and design work is getting done on the entire system from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Electrification poles are visible from San Francisco to San Jose. Huge, visible structures dot the landscape. And on Monday, the latest overpass--this one in Fresno County--opened to the public, making space for HSR to run under American Avenue:
And as anyone can see in the above photo, the HSR alignment runs alongside existing tracks that can connect the initial segments to the Bay Area. But again Vartabedian repeats the lie that the Authority is building "...an isolated [emphasis added] starter system in the Central Valley."
But that's how Vartabedian rolls: he constantly frames the project in the most negative light possible, ignores positive news whenever possible, and repeats misinformation to turn people against it.
It's getting built anyway.
For more on Biden's support for rail transportation, here's an article from a real newspaper.