high speed rail connecting Northern and Southern California has long been in the works: plans were proposed by Governer Jerry Brown back in the 1980s, and the High Speed Rail Authority was founded in 1996.

Nevertheless, recent changes in the political landscape could see the project grind to a halt.

Most influential is the increasingly likely ascent of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to House Majority Leadership: after current Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary just last week and Pete Sessions (R-TX) dropped out of the race to succeed him, he is the only candidate left standing.

McCarthy has been one of California’s most vocal critics of the high speed rail, so his rise in influence could be the funeral toll of the project, which currently relies heavily — nay, almost entirely — on federal funding (according to Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), California has not received any state or private funding for the project.)

McCarthy’s rise may also mean more funding and support thrown to Republican challengers in the California House Elections, including Doug Ose (CA-07), Carl DeMaio (CA-52), and Tony Strickland (CA-25), McCarthy’s protege and another strong opponent of the almost exclusively Democrat-supported rail.

However, Republicans are not the only ones fighting the rail: in a recent vote, four California Democrats — including Doug Ose’s opponent in the 7th District, Ami Bera — withdrew their support from the project. The vote in question was for an amendment to an appropriations bill which would prevent any of the funds appropriated from going to the rail project. The bill passed with the amendment 227-186.

The high speed rail project has been on a decline since it was allocated $9 billion in borrowed funding by Proposition 1A in 2008. The cost of the rail — which would purportedly travel from Los Angeles to San Fransisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes and was projected to have between 65.5 and 96.5 million riders by 2030 — was then estimated to be $33 billion.

Since then, every one of those numbers has been called into question:

  • The 2 hour and 40 minute trip will take nearly half an hour longer on regular schedule trips.
  • 65.5 million riders? More like 31.1 million. And that’s the high end of the estimate.
  • Projected costs have since doubled to $68 billion.

This is not what the California voters said they wanted back in 2008, and it shows: as of 2013, only 43% of Californians support the high speed rail, a marked drop from the 53% that voted to pass Prop. 1A. If Democrats continue to withdraw their support, Jerry Brown will eventually be the only one holding it up.

And then it will topple.


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