Newsom isn’t backing away from high-speed rail, after all

February 13, 2019

Modesto Bee & Merced Sun-Star

Newsom isn’t backing away from high-speed rail, after all

By Garth Stapley

February 13, 2019 11:53 AM

Some supporters of high-speed rail were encouraged by remarks in the governor’s first State of the State address Tuesday, despite what others saw as an admission of defeat for the controversial project.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom said his predecessor’s bullet-train dream “would cost too much and take too long,” many saw Newsom throwing in the towel. “Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.,” he continued.

But the governor also doubled down on finishing a shorter Valley segment now under construction, from Bakersfield to Merced, and he appointed a new leader for the project.

Bay Area trains zipping toward Modesto

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Manteca — a chief advocate for passenger rail — sees a lot to like in the Merced part of Newsom’s speech. In a few years, riders will board ACE commuter trains in Merced and head north through Turlock and Modesto toward the Altamont Pass. That means the entire San Joaquin Valley soon will connect by commuter rail to the Bay Area, she said in a Tuesday telephone call with The Modesto Bee.

“Essentially, the governor today made a commitment to close the gap between ACE and high-speed rail,” Galgiani said.

Because news reports immediately focused on Newsom giving up the larger dream — bullet trains flying between the Capitol, San Francisco and Southern California — Galgiani cornered him at a post-speech reception for dignitaries Tuesday afternoon in the governor’s mansion. He reaffirmed a desire to extend to those important job centers once the Merced-Bakersfield line becomes reality, Galgiani said.

“He’s saying, `Let’s finish this and get it up and running with passengers using it, then we can go to the next leg’,” she said.

Subsequent news reports from CBS, the San Francisco Chronicle and others, based on information from Newsom’s staff, support Galgiani’s take, despite the initial confusion.

Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, said in a statement, “Governor Newsom clearly sees how vital an opportunity high-speed rail is for the Valley and has recommitted that the Merced rail line will be included up front and not pushed off to later phases.”

Rail officials hope to extend ACE service from San Joaquin County to Modesto and Ceres by 2020, and to Merced and Sacramento soon after.

On her Senate website, Galgiani posted thoughts Tuesday, including: “Let’s be clear once and for all: high-speed rail is coming, it’s being built, it’s part of our landscape now, it’s not going anywhere, it’s part of California’s Central Valley and now we can, with great confidence, begin planning around this very important transportation project.”