clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

California high-speed rail from LA to SF still on, says governor

New, 4 comments

Confusion full steam ahead after State of the State address

California high speed rail construction in Fresno.
Elevated sections of the high-speed rail under construction in Fresno, California.
Photo by AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared to pull the plug on the long-planned high-speed rail connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles during his first State of the State address.

Shortly after Newsom declared that “the project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” the announcement made national headlines, many of which claimed the California governor was canceling or scaling back the rail plan.

Not so fast.

Despite Newsom’s statements, the governor’s office insists that the SF-to-LA connection is still on. In fact, it appears that little about the high-speed rail project’s plan has changed.

“As the governor said in the speech, we have to be realistic about the project—that means refocusing and reprioritizing to get a finished section from Bakersfield to Merced,” Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click explained via email to Curbed SF.

The state will also “continue undertaking the broader project, completing the bookend projects and finishing the environmental review for the SF to LA leg, that would allow the project to continue seeking other funding streams (private and federal) as the Central Valley section demonstrates the viability of the broader project,” noted Click.

He further clarified that Newsom’s comments about there being “no path” for the train project simply meant that “there isn’t the funding to do the project from SF to LA under the current funding stream.”

Newsom’s comments emphasizing the Central Valley portion of the project were “about being explicit around refocusing and reprioritizing completing Bakersfield to Merced,” according to Click.

Estimates from 2018 projected that the bullet train initiative was likely $37 billion over budget. And the Central Valley connection is already under construction.

After the speech, Newsom told ABC 7 that he is “fully committed to building high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

Critics of the rail connection took to Twitter to prematurely celebrate its death, with House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy declaring, “The train to nowhere is finally stopped.” (Note that McCarthy hails from Bakersfield, the southernmost terminus of the railway currently under construction.)

San Francisco-based State Sen. Scott Wiener, however, told McCarthy to “stay in his lane” and swiftly issued a statement proclaiming, “The Bay Area and Los Angeles must be—and will be—part of California’s high-speed rail network.”

Sen. Wiener confirmed to Curbed SF that the high-speed rail project was still on, noting that, eventually, the high-speed rail will connect to the city’s troubled Transbay Transit Center.

“In the long run, the Transbay Transit Center will be a nerve center for a future Bay Area regional rail network,” said Wiener. “I understand that we all want that to happen yesterday.”

That’s good news for San Francisco. Not only is the (out of order) Transbay Transit Center supposed to be the SF connection for the bullet train, but as SocketSite points out, the city is relying on future high-speed rail funding to bolster projects like the Caltrain extension to downtown and Caltrain’s ongoing electrification project, the budgets for which rely on hundreds of millions of dollars of pledged state funds.