Brown’s Bullet Train Miracle

Every time you think California’s high-speed rail project is at death’s door, Jerry Brown finds some way to keep it alive. And so earlier this week Brown presided over a ground-breaking in Fresno for the first station on the proposed bullet train route that will, in the still fairly unlikely event the project is ever completed, link San Francisco and L.A. with a train capable of traveling up to 220 mph.

For non-Californians, at Salon David Dayen has written a good overview and update on the project, which he clearly favors. This characterization of its progress is spot-on:

The bullet train won’t begin serving Californians until the next decade, and only if the remaining funds needed for completion can be located. But it’s kind of a miracle that shovels ever hit the ground at all. The estimated $68 billion project defeated legal challenges, conservative grousers and even a short-sighted attack by the environmental lobby to make it this far.

I’d add that public opinion is more than a bit iffy about the project; a November 2014 poll showed Californians favoring an end to it by a 48-44 margin. And despite a general feeling that Democrats favor high-speed rail more than do Republicans, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a strong possibility to be Brown’s successor, has suggested it’s at best a low priority for him. There’s NIMBY opposition along the route, and indifference in areas not served; perhaps the most interesting source of support is in the job-starved San Joaquin Valley, an increasingly Republican area where the initial construction is taking place.

So we’ll see what happens next, but Dayen is right: Jerry Brown’s support ranks a close second to money from the Obama administration as a lubricant for this project.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.