California shifts focus of high speed rail amidst criticism, delays

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California’s high speed rail project, originally slated to join San Francisco to Los Angeles, has officially changed scope, narrowing itself to the Central Valley region between Merced, Calif., and Bakersfield, Calif.

Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement earlier this week, drawing weigh-in from across the political and business spectrum. The refocus pulls construction efforts to the only segment of the line currently under construction anyway, after months of legal and political slog. Lawsuits from Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) and environmental groups, a lack of assistance at the federal level, and fears at the local level all contributed to the quagmire.

“We’re going to make high-speed rail a reality for California,” Newsom wrote in a series of tweets. “We have the capacity to complete the rail between Merced and Bakersfield. We will continue our regional projects north and south. Finish Phase 1 [environmental] work. Connect the Central Valley to other parts of the state. For those who want to walk away: Abandoning high speed rail means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it. I’m not interested in sending $3.5B in federal funding—exclusively allocated for HSR—back to the White House. This is so much more than a train project. It’s a transformation project.”

The Rail Passengers Association, responding to the change of pace, said that they welcome clarification that Newsome is fully dedicated to connected San Francisco and Los Angeles by rail. That there is a reduced scope is a merely temporary measure in their eyes, and they seek the development of low-cost pathways to continue.

“Gov. Newsom’s new strategy recognizes the simple fact that the Californian public, while enthusiastic about access to high-speed rail, has lost faith in project managers to deliver it in a reasonable fashion,” Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews said. “By delivering on 200mph-plus service along an Initial Operating Segment (IOS), the Authority can restore public trust.”