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Why U.S. Plans For High-Speed Trains Keep Riding Off The Rails

A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is displayed at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

California’s governor spiked the state’s high-speed rail project. “Let’s get real,” he said, “it would cost too much and take too long.” Why can’t the U.S. get high-speed rail right?

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Rod Diridon, chair emeritus of both the California High Speed Rail Authority and the U.S. High Speed Rail Association. Former chair of Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Noël Perry, transport economist and founder of the market research and consulting business Transport Futures.

From The Reading List

Check out the U.S. High Speed Rail Association’s vision for a national network

NPR: “Trump Threatens To Cancel California’s $929 Million High Speed Rail Grant” — “The Trump administration says it intends to cancel a $929 million federal grant for California’s high-speed rail project. The administration also wants to reclaim another $2.5 billion in federal funds already spent by California on the project.

“The Department of Transportation is accusing California officials of missing several deadlines tied to the $929 million appropriation for the state’s high speed rail line.

“In a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration to the state High-Speed Rail Authority, the federal officials say it will terminate the grant effective March 5.

“The FRA letter adds that the agency is concerned that California is changing its original plan to ‘connect San Francisco in the north and Los Angeles and Anaheim in the south.’ ”

USA Today: “Did dream of high-speed trains die in USA? No, it could still be a reality in California – and elsewhere” — “California could still bring the nation’s first high-speed rail train to reality, proponents said – even if the size falls short of the original grand plans – and that could encourage other states to follow suit.

“Wednesday, a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he wouldscale back plans for a bullet train connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, backers focused on a smaller segment being built and said that gave them cause for hope.

“Newsom, who took office last month, said Tuesday that extending the rail line to San Francisco and Los Angeles – which are about 400 miles apart – would, at $77 billion, ‘cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.’ Instead, he said, he wanted to complete a shorter segment under construction across the state’s Central Valley.

“He followed up with a tweet that indicated he is committed to the completed line over the long term.”

Sacramento Bee: “No, Gov. Gavin Newsom didn’t kill high-speed rail. But what’s his Plan B?” — “It’s been a dream for years in California’s sprawling Central Valley. Sleek bullet trains would race workers to and from booming Silicon Valley in the Bay Area, bridging the economic and cultural gap between urban and rural California.

“Last week, with the words ‘let’s get real,’ Gov. Gavin Newsom canceled that dream for now – and perhaps forever.

“In his first State of the State speech, Newsom said what many have long thought: The state’s high-speed rail project, which has ballooned in price from $45 billion to $77 billion, is out of control and needs trimming. The governor later added the project otherwise would run out of money with nothing to show for it except ‘angst, frustration and finger-pointing.’

“Instead of trying to link to the Bay Area, Newsom said he will focus on finishing the line currently under construction that will run 171 miles through the Valley from Merced to Bakersfield. He said it could open by 2027.”

San Francisco Chronicle: “Train to nowhere? Here’s how high-speed project went off the rails” — “It’s the railway dream that bedazzled California for decades: bullet trains whipping up and down the state, cutting a path from Los Angeles, through the orchards of the Central Valley and into downtown San Francisco. The route promised to eventually push north to Sacramento and south to San Diego.

“But high-speed rail has repeatedly hit lawsuits, engineering problems, geological obstacles, bureaucracy, swelling costs and delays. Its budget has ballooned from $33 billion to $77 billion, with no secure financing plan.

“In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he might scale back the vision to a 165-mile track between Merced and Bakersfield that seems to have little appeal. He has since backpedaled, saying he’s still open to a longer line, but acknowledged that there is no money for it.

“Which begs the question: How did we get here?”

Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on

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