California governor Jerry Brown (SFHAC)

Trump victory raises hopes for California high-speed rail

9 November 2016 | By GCR Staff 3 Comments

One of the more unlikely beneficiaries of Donald Trump’s victory in yesterday’s US presidential election is Jerry Brown, the Democratic governor of California (pictured), and his $64bn project to build a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Although he branded Trump as a “fraud” for the President-Elect’s views on climate change, Brown’s cherished scheme is around $44bn short of funding.

Trump, meanwhile, is an enthusiastic fan of Chinese-style high-speed rail, and used his victory speech today to reiterate his promise of a massive infrastructure stimulus programme, which he has previously said would include railroads.

The Californian scheme, which has been on site since July 2014, has had to raise money as it goes along.

“The Chinese have trains that go 300 miles per hour. We have trains that go chug-chug-chug”– Donald Trump

The first segment of the line, from Madera to Bakersfield, will cost around $6bn, which is being met by $3.3bn in federal funding and $2.6bn from the $9bn public bond that the Californian public approved back in 2008.

Brown’s administration says the remainder could come from federal support, state bonds, and cap and trade funds.

But the cash has not been forthcoming, and, as The Los Angeles Times pointed out in July, the project had little prospect of attracting federal funding as long as the Republicans control congress.

Enter Donald Trump, the unlikeliest of Republican presidents, who has declared himself an enthusiastic supporter of railways.  

When he was campaigning, Trump praised Chinese rail systems.

“The Chinese have trains that go 300 miles per hour. We have trains that go chug-chug-chug,” he said in a speech in March.

On another occasion he said: “China and these other countries, they have super-speed trains. We have nothing. This country has nothing. We are like the third world.” And in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, Trump promised to build “the railways of tomorrow”.

Infrastructure and cannabis

Brown’s rail project also received a boost when voters in California rejected proposition 53, “the no blank cheques initiative”, which sought to amend the state’s constitution so that it would be unable to issue infrastructure revenue bonds for more than $2bn without voter approval.

The main loser if that measure had passed would have the rail scheme, which is likely to rely on revenue bonds in the future, and which would have been subject to a citizens’ veto every time it tried to raise one. In the event it was rejected by a 51% to 49%.

Two state-wide measures that passed were a plan to raise $9bn to build more schools and community colleges (54% in favour) and to legalise recreational marijuana use (56% in favour).

The second of these measures promises a boom in the construction of high-tech agricultural buildings, cannabis being an indoor crop and growing spaces resembling laboratories rather than conventional greenhouses.

Nevada, Massachusetts also voted to legalise recreational use of the drug, Arizona voted to keep it for medical use only, and Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota approved its use for medical purposes.

The votes are still coming in to approve a cannabis legislative measure in Montana and Maine.

Image: California governor Jerry Brown (SFHAC)