California’s Bullet Train Is Dead. Sort Of.

California High-Speed Rail Authority

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

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.

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

payment methods

WE'RE TAKING A SHORT BREAK…

from the big banner at the top of our pages asking for the donations that make Mother Jones' nonprofit journalism possible. But we still have upwards of $300,000 to raise by June 30, whether we get there is going to come down to the wire, and we can't afford to come up short.

If you value the reporting you get from Mother Jones and you can right now, please join your fellow readers who pitch in from time to time to keep our democracy-advancing, justice-seeking journalism charging hard (and to help us avoid a real budget crunch as June 30 approaches and our fiscal year ends).

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