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No, Gavin Newsom Didn't Just Kill California's High-Speed Rail Project

CA High Speed Rail Authority
A bridge for high-speed rail was under construction in Madera County in 2018.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s remarks on California’s embattled high-speed rail project in his State of the State address Tuesday seemed to confuse just about everyone. Supporters and opponents alike questioned whether he’s scaling back the project, or even abandoning it. Turns out … he really isn’t changing all that much. Capital Public Radio’s Ben Adler explains.

These words made heads spin across the nation:

Newsom: “Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were. However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.”

Many media reports jumped to the same conclusion…

TV Mashup: “California Gov. Gavin Newsom slamming the brakes / Gov. Gavin Newsom drops a bombshell / There are no longer any plans to build a bullet train between northern and southern California / He’s hitting the brakes on California’s high-speed rail project..”

Not exactly.

A closer look shows a train from San Francisco to Anaheim is still very much alive. Listen to what else the governor said:

Newsom: “We’ll finish Phase 1 of the environmental work…”

The state must do this, in fact, or else it would have to return $3.5 billion in federal funding. And, Newsom said:

Newsom: “We’ll continue to support our regional projects north and south…”

…bolstering commuter rail in the Bay Area and Southern California so it can eventually blend with high-speed rail.

So what’s new? Newsom now wants all available state funding to go toward finishing the Central Valley segment currently under construction.

Newsom: “Let’s get something done, once and for all.”

And it’s a LONGER segment — an extra 50 miles.

But to critics, like Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, it’s just “lipstick on a pig.” He says high-speed rail’s problems aren’t going away.

Fong: “It’s fundamentally flawed. The ridership numbers have never been real. It’s been over budget. There’s a lack of transparency — no one can figure out what’s happening with this project. We need to be honest with the public.”

So really, the biggest thing Newsom is changing…is how the governor of California is talking about the $77 billion project.