Gov. Gavin Newsom has never been a fan of high-speed rail, at least not the fan that his predecessor Jerry Brown was.

And in his State of the State address Tuesday, Newsom seemingly pulled the plug on the Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed rail project. Instead, the governor sought to emphasize the leg already under construction that would link Bakersfield to Merced. Since the high-speed rail project has been fraught with cost overruns with an estimated price tag of $77 million, it does make financial sense to scale back to a more realistic proposal. Now, instead of a train to nowhere, we will have a train from somewhere to somewhere else. The original vision was to “shrink the state” and have train travel an alternative to airplanes. However, it is apparent that such a conceptual project would be too heavy a lift. Brown tried while he could, after all, he was committed. Yet Newsom has no such entanglements.

One point of information. Those who are familiar with the nuts and bolts of Caltrain electrification may be concerned that a refocus of the high-speed rail project on the Central Valley may mean that a $713 million commitment toward the $2 billion local project would evaporate. The governor assured that would not be the case, and even Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon to reassure that the governor did in fact reiterate the state’s obligation to help fund the Caltrain electrification project. This high-speed rail money was rooted in a “blended system” compromise hammered together in 2011 to minimize property takings and to eliminate the need to add an aerial viaduct to support a four-track system.

While hope for a high-speed rail train from Los Angeles to the heart of San Francisco was dealt a significant blow, the idea is not quite dead. There could be a chance that more work could be done once the Bakersfield to Merced connection is completed. And there is also a chance that one day high-speed rail trains will find their way into the San Francisco Transbay Terminal. But that is far far far off into the future and the past performance of the high-speed rail project surely indicates there would have to be a significant revamp in how any extension is done for it to pass muster and gain the support it needs to move ahead.

The high-speed rail project was launched in earnest more than a decade ago, with pie in the sky ambition. But as with any massive infrastructure project, it faced opposition and cost overruns. There was little chance of success under its current composition. While nearly everyone knew that, there were some who were willing to push it forward. In governing, there is a time to dream and time to get real. Newsom chose to get real, while keeping the promise to fund Caltrain electrification, and keeping the door open to more phases but in a different form. This was a tough choice, but the right choice.

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(6) comments

Cs

Infrastructure. Americans don't want to pay the price now and it will cost us in the future. America in decline while other countries r investing in infrastructure are moving pass us.

Glenn

Well at least the prisoners will be able to get to their next victims in Bakersfield upon their release.

TH

This couldn't come soon enough. Kudos to our new Governor for trying to clean this mess up!

Terence Y

The HSR was never about actually building the line - it was a union giveaway to all of Brown's cronies. Brown didn't care about completion, he only wanted to keep the money flowing to the unions, who had bought and paid for his governorship. Newsom is attempting another bait and switch - lower the scope, spend the money, and in a few years, the line will miraculously come back to life, along with the need for more money. I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it, as trust in state government and their stewardship of our money is at an all time low.

Christopher Conway

Where are all the HSR fans out there now? Only in big government projects can you lie to the voters to get a project started, underestimate the costs, underestimate the funding, lie some more, reduce the scope of the project, build a $2 billion bus terminal, become extremely behind schedule, then at the end of the day, just say Nay, this thing is too expensive and it is going to take to long. We are just going to build it from Bakersfield to Modesto. The only reason for this is that California does not want to give back the $3 billion the rest of the country gave us for HSR.
I hope with what has happened with this project, the Transbay terminal, the Bay Bridge and other big government projects that are complete fiasco's more scrutiny by taxpayers and voters is given and at least some accountability on those who shoved this project down our collective throats. Told you so.

JME

China could build it better and faster. They recently completed HSR from Hong King to Beijing

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