Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
01/07/2015 7:48 AM

It was billed as a “groundbreaking,” but no ground was broken, even metaphorically.

Rather, what happened on a dusty lot in downtown Fresno on Tuesday was more of a pep rally during which Gov. Jerry Brown and other advocates of building a north-south bullet train system extolled its supposed virtues to a handpicked audience.

To hear Brown and other cheerleaders tell it, the project, currently priced at $68 billion, would ease California’s worst-in-the-nation highway congestion, relieve pressure on airports, clean up the air and bring prosperity to the chronically depressed San Joaquin Valley.

“I know there are a lot of critics,” Brown said during his stream-of-conscious remarks that ranged from the medieval cathedrals of Europe to a childhood train trip and the failure of Modoc County voters – he called them “Modocians” – to support his re-election.

But he dismissed those critics – some of whom chanted “stop the train” outside the event’s fence – as lacking spirit. “We have to build,” he said.

Do we?

A clue that the bullet train may be a solution in search of a problem lies in the seemingly strong statement by one speaker that the train will reduce automotive travel in California by 10 million vehicle-miles a day when fully operational in 2040.

The number, echoing High-Speed Rail Authority assertions, sounds impressive until one looks at it in context. California’s motorists drive nearly 1 billion miles a day, so the supposed impact – as voiced by the project’s cheerleaders – represents about a 1 percent reduction.

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