California’s Bullet Train Is Dead. Sort Of.

California High-Speed Rail Authority

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

Gavin Newsom, the newly elected governor of California, has canceled the bullet train project between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As a longtime critic of the train, I say good for him. He says there simply isn’t a remotely feasible funding path to finish the project, and he’s right.

But wait. There’s more:

The Democratic governor supports finishing the controversial high-speed rail line between Bakersfield and Merced, saying it would invigorate the economy in California’s midsection and reduce the region’s air pollution.

Look, I can sort of understand the appeal of this. If you finish the middle stretch, then at least you’ve got something there in case you ever find the money to complete the whole thing. But it’s a lunatic idea anyway. I mean, who’s going to ride it once it’s done? A map might make this problem clearer:

Once this segment is finished, it will connect three cities with a total combined population of about 1 million. Toss in a few more stops plus the surrounding areas and maybe you’ve got a potential market of 2 or 3 million people. That’s crazy. Right now there are only 12 trains a day running between Los Angeles and San Diego, a corridor with a population of 10-15 million. Merced to Bakersfield might support six trains a day at most, and there are already six daily Amtrak trains running this route.¹ Sure, the bullet train would be faster than Amtrak, but that’s going to affect ridership only slightly.

This is the definition of insanity. You can at least make a case for a fast connection between LA and San Francisco. But I don’t think you can justify even a dime being spent on a Bakersfield-Merced route.

¹This is not to serve the Merced-Bakersfield market, either. It’s a San Francisco-Los Angeles train, and the Central Valley towns and cities just happen to be along the way.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate