Gavin Newsom will face daunting questions on bullet train

When Gavin Newsom is sworn in as California governor on Jan. 7, he’s already indicated he will take criticisms of the state’s troubled $77 billion high-speed rail project seriously.

That’s in sharp contrast to outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown, who described project critics as “declinists” with no vision for what the Golden State could become. Brown only offered vague pronouncements when asked about giant cost overruns and the $50 billion or more gap between available funding and what’s needed to build the high-speed rail linking Los Angeles and San Francisco.

If Newsom lives up to his word, he’s going to need to respond to profound issues raised by project watchers in and out of the state government over the last two months.

In November, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a harsh report on poor management practices in the California High-Speed Rail Authority, especially the billions in cost overruns due to the decision to launch construction of the project’s $10.6 billion, 119-mile first segment in the Central Valley before the authority was fully ready. Howle’s audit led Newsom to tell a Fresno audience that he might shake up the leadership of the rail authority.

Among the few specifically positive observations that Newsom has made in recent months about the project was that the first segment held promise to link Silicon Valley workers with less expensive housing in the Central Valley.

Project seen as ‘notoriously unpopular’ in Central Valley

But a Dec. 23 Sacramento Bee analysis found that even though the bullet train project was generating thousands of jobs in the agricultural region, it was “notoriously unpopular” among residents.

“They resent how construction has carved up their farms and scrambled their highways,” the Bee reported. “Completion of just a partial segment through the Valley is still years away, and residents doubt the project will ever get finished. They question the promises that high-speed rail will lift the Valley out of its economic doldrums.”

This skepticism is increasingly shared by elected Democrats both in the Central Valley and the rest of the state.

A Dec. 28 Los Angeles Times report quoted Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon as saying problems with the bullet train are so widespread that it should “be paused for a reassessment.” Rendon said the prospect that the project would run out of money before ever reaching the Los Angeles region left voters in the area feeling deceived.

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, has made clear that he will work to have rail authority chairman Dan Richard ousted because of cost overruns and management issues.

The bullet train’s image has also deteriorated among state pundits.

When California voters approved $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the then-$45 billion project in 2008, the ballot initiative was broadly supported by newspaper editorial boards.

“Americans who visit Japan or Europe and hop a bullet train get a stunning reminder of how far behind much of the industrialized world we are in swift, clean, efficient transportation,” the San Jose Mercury-News editorial page declared on Oct. 18, 2008. “Californians can change that by approving Proposition 1A, a bond to begin construction of a high-speed rail system that would whisk passengers from Los Angeles to the Bay Area through downtown San Jose in a mere 2 1/2 hours. It will be a catalyst for the economic growth of California and this region over the next 100 years.”

An editorial printed last month in the Mercury-News showed a 180-degree swing in opinion: “The incompetence and irresponsibility at the California High-Speed Rail Authority are staggering. … It’s time to end this fiasco to stop throwing good money after bad.”

Decision on cap-and-trade funding may signal Newsom’s intentions

An early sign of Newsom’s level of enthusiasm for continuing on Brown’s path is likely in coming weeks as initial work is done on the 2019-20 state budget. The California Air Resources Board reported pulling in $813 million from its Nov. 14 auction of cap-and-trade air pollution credits – a heavy haul.

If Newsom opposes diverting 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue to the bullet-train project – as has been done since 2015 – that will be the clearest indication yet that he is ready to back away from the troubled project.


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  1. Dallas Weaver Ph.D.
    Dallas Weaver Ph.D. 3 January, 2019, 09:29

    How will that bullet train every compete in the future? As it is now, it takes 6 hr from my home in Huntington Beach to our grandchildren’s house in Redwood City and in our Prius that is about $30 worth of gas for two passengers.

    Looking at an hour to a train station (bus transport) plus an hour+ to the bullet train station which would require a TSA line after the first minor incident and another hour on the not bullet into the bay area and half an hour from the train to our daughter’s house we have almost 3.5 hours before the bullet train time (claimed 2 hours).

    By the time the bullet train is completed, my new car will be fully automated and I get on highway 5 and take a nap. My car will be able to track another car on 5 at 2 ft and decrease the fuel and/or electricity consumption by about 33% (drafting like NASCAR drivers using computer reflex times with communication between the cars as a car-train. With my net energy consumption less than the bullet train, how can it compete?

    Reply this comment
    • Sean
      Sean 3 January, 2019, 10:24

      How can it compete? It’s the government and your being railroaded. There is no need to compete.

      Reply this comment
    • Nick Prophy
      Nick Prophy 5 January, 2019, 07:15

      The TSA point is valid. i also believe HSR will be subsidized heavily for low income folks. Air travel won’t be. The trains will be pigstys, transporting poorly educated, impoverished people from their dysfunctional homes to their distant family dysfunctional homes.
      Expect yelling, punching,people crapping in seats. Just a fun time.
      Telling, note politicians on the innaugaral ride; i will be the last time they take it.

      Reply this comment
  2. Dude McCool
    Dude McCool 3 January, 2019, 10:54

    This bullet train was always just an ego trip for Jerry Brownstain.

    Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 3 January, 2019, 13:41


    Starting out year as usual…you think too much. It is simple.

    The unchained migration hordes will find affordable housing and low margin surviving businesses and above mini wage jobs along the route. On line chrony shippers get fast and cheap rates. Union wages and juicy pensions. Looks like winners all around.

    Reply this comment
  4. Cmp
    Cmp 4 January, 2019, 06:50

    A complete waste of money. It will never come close to supporting it self.

    Reply this comment
  5. hood
    hood 4 January, 2019, 11:21

    Wow, the comments here. The infrastructure business, including airlines, doesn’t really support itself. It makes other businesses grow by leaps and bounds, though. HSR may have made so many compromises in its route and design that it deserves to die but if you’ve ever been on HSR elsewhere you know it’s value. Rail carries freight at a tiny fraction of the cost of air and truck and HSR will carry freight, too. The problem for Newsom is that he did not create the problem but at some point he needs to go all in or back out.

    Reply this comment
    • Queeg
      Queeg 4 January, 2019, 11:58


      The STATE never backs down…….the choo choo is part of your lives now. Adapt. The hordes want it for housing and job opportunities in the interiors.

      This is a massive economic wealth generator for the beleagured unskilled workers. Dispersing poulation from high cost crumbling coastal areas is good STATE policy.

      Reply this comment
    • ricky65
      ricky65 6 January, 2019, 08:41

      Wow! HSR is going to be a freight train too?
      We must complete it at once because we don’t have those now.

      Reply this comment
    • CPUNerd559
      CPUNerd559 9 January, 2019, 17:55

      Hood, can you point to where HSR is going to be carrying freight..?? I think you are very wrong in your comment about HSR and freight

      Reply this comment
  6. Sean
    Sean 5 January, 2019, 14:32

    Anyone looking at the economics of high speed rail need only look at the northeast corridor and compare a trip from BWI (airport or rail station) to Boston. 7.5 hr rail trip costs the same as a 90 min flight. Do the Accela train which saves you an hour and the price doubles. The trip from Santa Ana, CA to San Jose,CA is a bit shorter distance but currently 10 hrs but it’s a bit cheaper than the 90 min flight. There may be potential for the high speed rail to get you there in 3 hrs but likely going to cost 3x as much and still operate at a loss.

    Reply this comment
  7. dork
    dork 7 January, 2019, 06:55

    I think we should all rally around this project and do everything possible to get it started, then as soon as construction begins we can put a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot officially relocating ALL Public Offices to Fresno and require ALL Public Servants to use Public Transportation to and from their respective workplace./

    Reply this comment
  8. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 7 January, 2019, 09:53

    Part of the proposition for the HSR bond funding (and the plan) called for a HSR line running to San Diego — funded by the first part of the plan (a ludicrous idea). Now San Diego region voters know that this was a ruse to get their votes — and their money. Put the revised plan back on the ballot with realistic projections, and this boondoggle will end with a 3-1 voter rejection.

    Reply this comment
    • Fletch'
      Fletch' 24 January, 2019, 07:34

      Totally concur with Mr. Ryder suggestion for a do-over on the voting for this project, as it will fail badly.

      Reply this comment
  9. Steele, Ted Trumpsteaks
    Steele, Ted Trumpsteaks 10 January, 2019, 09:19

    Mass Transit is a bad idea. Let’s face it— the only way we can burn mass amounts of carbon loading fuel is to burn oil in our cars! This train will hurt our oil company masters—- danger—–

    Reply this comment
  10. Donkey
    Donkey 10 January, 2019, 19:54

    Daunting Questions? The Dims could care less what the other side thinks.
    The RAGWUS is destroying every city and county in Cali! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  11. ricky65
    ricky65 12 January, 2019, 07:18

    It’s not mass transit Teddy. It’s transit for the masses. Think filthy cars with excrement smeared seating, filled with dangerous drug addicts and thugs holding up passengers.
    The oligarch and high tech slavers will still have their Teslas, Land Rovers and Gulf stream jets.
    You, of course, will hang out with the ‘swells’ and climate doomer bunch and complain about the ‘deplorables’ excessive carbon use.
    Possibly the only answer left to save the world will be to move them all into re-education camps and place the scum on a 700 calorie a day diet.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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