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California High-Speed Rail and the American Infrastructure Tragedy, Explained



Photo of high-speed rail construction in Fresno, California
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California High-Speed Rail and the American Infrastructure Tragedy, Explained

Congressional progressives’ push for a Green New Deal briefly put the question of a national high-speed passenger rail initiative back into the discourse. Then this week, we saw reality bite back sharply: Newly inaugurated California Gov. Gavin Newsom all but canceled the state’s ambitious plans for a statewide high-speed rail network, one that would link San Diego and Los Angeles to San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento via the major cities in the state’s Central Valley.
The dual tragedy is that, given the cost overruns and lack of federal support, canceling the project was likely the right call — and yet the basic idea of high-speed passenger rail to connect California’s major cities is a perfectly sound and reasonable one.
More broadly, high-speed rail (unlike hyperloops, maglevs, or hypothetical biofuel-powered airplanes) is a proven technology that has been deployed at scale in Japan, China, Korea, France, Spain, and several smaller European countries. It’s not viable as a substitute for all air travel, but given cities that are an appropriate distance apart, we have seen it can displace most air travel and some car traffic, giving people a superior transportation option that is also cleaner.

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