News from Sacramento

The Debate Around High-Speed Rail

Debate and negotiations are at the very core of our democracy and certainly my work in Sacramento. We live in a big state, with tens of millions of people all holding a wide range of perspectives, backgrounds and ideals. We do not need to look much further than our own neighborhoods to know how differently each person thinks about a particular issue. So when a matter comes before me that has a particularly significant impact on the lives of our citizens, I feel it is my duty to ensure a thorough debate is actually had. One such topic came up this year, and it’s a topic that has rarely been without debate. That topic is, of course, high-speed rail.

Since its very inception in 1996, the high-speed rail project has been the center of one of our state’s greatest of debates, especially as time has gone by. With tens of billions of dollars on the line and with tracks running through 800-plus miles of our culturally, economically and geographically diverse state, there are a lot of voices, needs and perspectives this project has to address. In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 1A, which allocated $40 billion dollars to the project in order to fund its mission to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco with a 200 mph train.

I’ll be frank – the plan and progress we’re seeing right now is not the high-speed rail we voted for nor is it anywhere close to serving our state’s major population centers within the amount of time we were promised. So when the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) came to the legislature earlier this year requesting over $4 billion in additional funding, I had to do my part to focus the conversation on accountability and achievable results.

As the chair of the Assembly Committee on Transportation, I’ve been consistent and clear with my concern that, if the HSRA continues with its current business plan, we could end up with a stranded asset that does not fulfill its promise to voters.

At this time, the HSRA is taking a big gamble. It is betting that the section of track running from Bakersfield to Merced will be so impressive in its speed and engineering that voters and legislators will be willing to commit tens of billions dollars more to continue the project.

I’m not as convinced. I believe the project’s success comes down to ridership. My fear remains that the ridership on that section of track will not be large enough to convince Californians that this is a project worth sticking to. I’ve been consistent in arguing that the success of this project depends as much on developing train riders as it does on developing track. We cannot be prepared to sacrifice the promise high-speed rail made to voters for plans to complete the section of the project with the lowest ridership potential without having a real, hard and honest look at alternatives.

As the chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, I’m asking that we meaningfully explore alternative plans that would help start moving people more quickly in the Central Valley on a clean train by running an interim service between Merced and Bakersfield during the period when other sections of track are under construction. This would enable us to build electrified high-speed rail into the Bay Area once we have the necessary funding, while giving voters the near-term benefits sooner. I continue to believe that if people are riding a system seamlessly from the Central Valley to the Bay Area we will get a lot more support than having an isolated demonstration high-speed rail train that does not provide a workable connection for the 100,000-plus commuters in the Central Valley and their jobs. That is the crux of the debate and I think it’s worth discussing the pros and cons of both approaches.

I will continue to push us to evaluate paths that can demonstrate enough value to California voters to ensure their continued support of the project. Ultimately, even under the rosiest of economic forecasts, funding from state and federal resources likely won’t be enough to bridge a deficit of $60 billion or more and the support of voters needed to complete the system.

I’m interested in high-speed rail and the positive impacts it could have on millions of Californians’ lives but I also believe we need to show Californians, who have footed a massive bill for this project, something that can directly benefit them in their lifetimes. Thus, we need to keep up the conversation in Sacramento, even if it gets heated.

This is what oversight looks like and, yes, oversight is difficult.

What do you think about this debate, high-speed rail, and transportation projects in general? As always, please reach out to me with any comments, questions or concerns through my District Office at (818) 558-3043 or