A decade ago at a college party in San Diego, I made a prediction regarding California’s then-much-ballyhooed high speed rail project, touted as linking commuters from San Francisco to LA in a way that allowed them to avoid LAX (always avoid LAX). Drink in hand, I skeptically forecast that by the time the California government got through with it, the project would have shrunk into a very expensive monorail system going in an endless circle around the agricultural outpost of Bakersfield.
Yesterday, the newly elected California governor, Gavin Newsom, announced that California had exceeded my expectations! Instead of linking the large populations of the Bay Area and SoCal, high-speed rail was perhaps going to manage a run between Bakersfield and Merced, linking approximately 150 miles where everyone has a car and no one will be the slightest bit interested in buying a $100-plus ticket.
After flushing away a cool $77 billion in taxpayer money, the first high-speed rail train will complete its inaugural run carrying Gavin Newsom, 50 reporters, and several cows.
Not to worry, though, there are always grander projects for government to attend to. Instead of running 400 miles of track through farmland in the Central Valley, Rep. Alexandra Oscasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal promises the same boondoggle on a bicoastal scale. Like the Donner party’s wintertime excursion, laying $500-million-per-mile railroad track can only be improved by cutting through the Sierra Nevada.
Newsom is framing the whimpering end of the high-speed rail dream as a boon for California’s neglected central agricultural region, to which a million guys in pickup trucks immediately yelled back at Sacramento, “Forget the train and turn on the d-mn water!”
Lest anyone forget, the California high-speed project was supposed to be a model for the country; a vision of an America where flyover country could be relabeled by Californians and New Yorkers as pass-by country. In his 2011 state of the union address, President Obama called for a network of high-speed railroads to criss-cross the country within 25 years.
It’s been almost a decade, but California hasn’t yet managed to link Bakersfield to Merced. While useless, that goal is at least more manageable, at least according to the governor.
Don’t get too cocky, though, my money is still on the Bakersfield monorail. The city should slap up a plaque at the sole station as a monument to government waste and incompetence. I’m sure Californians can get such a plaque made for a few million bucks. By high-speed rail standards, it’s a bargain!