California's High-Speed Rail: Census Shows the 'Train To Nowhere' May Actually Be The Train to the Boom Towns

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(San Francisco -- Casey Miner, KALW News) The new census numbers mean big changes for California politics. Huge population growth in the Central Valley, compared to relatively anemic growth in the coastal cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, seems likely to shift a good deal of the state's political clout inland to cities like Bakersfield and Fresno. That's also where the first high-speed rail tracks will be laid. What some have called a "train to nowhere" is now a train to the fastest-growing part of the state.

"We're particularly interested to see the growth in these Central Valley cities," said Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "In Fresno and Bakersfield the populations are increasing, but they're still very isolated as far as accessibility and mobility." Wall added that these cities would be among those who saw the first jobs come from the project.

But Central Valley politicians aren't necessarily buying it.

Yesterday House majority whip, Bakersfield representative Kevin McCarthy, spoke forcefully against the project, echoing the "train to nowhere" sentiment and expressing doubts about how the state would fund the project. Congressman Jeff Denham, whose district includes Fresno and Modesto, said he continued to oppose the project as well. Allie Brandenburger, a spokesperson for Denham, said he doubted the project would bring jobs to the region.

"He believes it could provide jobs but we can’t afford to wait until 2020," she wrote in an email. "Out of work Americans need jobs now."

Construction on the high-speed rail line will actually begin well before 2020. Asked about whether that fact would change the Congressman's position, Brandenburger responded that Denham has doubts about where the line will go and whether enough private funding will emerge.

So far no politician has made a serious effort to stop the rail project. But given the region's increasing political clout, a lot may depend on whether those jobs come through.