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California’s High-Speed Rail Dreams Could Go “Whoosh”

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California’s High-Speed Rail Dreams Could Go “Whoosh”


Riding Indonesia’s new bullet train Whoosh is like taking a peek into California’s high-speed rail’s future, writes columnist Joe Mathews. And it doesn’t look promising. Photo of Whoosh train by author.

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The good news is that California will almost certainly have a high-speed rail line someday.

The bad news is that it may look a lot like “Whoosh.”

Whoosh is the name of the new high-speed rail line that opened last October on the Indonesian island of Java. Its existence is a breakthrough—Whoosh is the first bullet train in Southeast Asia and the Southern Hemisphere. Similarly, California’s train could be the first truly high-speed service in North America. (Amtrak’s Acela and Florida’s Brightline don’t count—they don’t surpass 150 miles per hour.)

I rode Whoosh during a reporting trip to Java in February. It was disappointing, in ways that may preview how Californians are likely to feel about the high-speed rail we eventually get.

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Most stories about the possibilities for California high-speed rail look at proven, efficient bullet trains in Europe and East Asia. I myself have written about the glories of high-speed rail systems in Germany and Taiwan. Riding Whoosh was a very different experience.

Whoosh is the by-product of ambitions by the administration of President Joko Widodo to build a high-speed rail route traversing the 600 miles of the island of Java—from the mega-city of Jakarta in the west to Surabaya in the east. California’s official high-speed rail plans are of similar ambition, extending 600 miles from San Francisco and Sacramento in the north to San Diego in the south. Both systems will use similar technologies and have promised the same top speed—350 kilometers, or 220 miles, per hour.

But neither rail ambition, Indonesian nor Californian, seems likely to be achieved in our lifetimes. Whoosh is only a very partial realization of a trans-Java high-speed rail: It extends just 88 miles, from Jakarta to the outskirts of the city of Bandung—roughly the distance from L.A. to Santa Barbara.  Similarly, California voters approved high-speed rail in 2008 on the promise they’d be zipping from L.A. to the Bay in less than three hours by 2020. Currently, only a first segment—171 miles from Merced to Bakersfield—is under construction, and even that isn’t scheduled to be operational until 2030.

I boarded Whoosh early on a weekday morning. The red train was shiny and new, and inside the car, seating was spacious and comfortable. But there were few other passengers. Even with subsidized fares that made my ticket the equivalent of $18, many trains were pretty empty. News reports say Whoosh is already losing money, as many high-speed rail systems worldwide do.

Why isn’t Whoosh more popular? One reason echoes a failure of California’s own high-speed rail plans—the first segment of this train doesn’t take you to the centers of the biggest cities.

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What I learned in Java was that, in high-speed rail as in other things, you get what you pay for.

In Jakarta, you don’t board the train in the city center but at Halim Station, on the city’s southeast side. My taxi ride there from Central Jakarta took 45 minutes. Halim is next to a smaller domestic airport—Jakarta’s version of Burbank. But the train doesn’t go into the airport, and one can’t walk easily from terminals, or even surrounding neighborhoods, to the station, because it involves crossing highways.

The train ride itself, from Jakarta to Bandung, was fast and uneventful. It lasted only 45 minutes—much better than the three hours the trip would take by car.

However, on the other end of Whoosh, connections were even more fraught. The train doesn’t go near the center of Bandung. Instead, it dropped me at Tegalluar station, well to the south of Bandung.

There I found myself surrounded by open land and a large soccer stadium. To get to central Bandung, where I was to interview local government members and visit a school, I would need to spend another 45 minutes in the taxis. The two taxi rides—within Jakarta and greater Bandung—took 90 minutes, twice the amount of time I spent on the train ride.

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On my return trip from Bandung to Jakarta, I tried an alternative path. I boarded a special feeder train—which ran slowly on diesel engines—from central Bandung to a different Whoosh station. That trip took 22 minutes. After Whoosh delivered me back to Halim station in southeast Jakarta, I boarded Jakarta’s Metro to return to where I was staying in Central Jakarta. That ride took 70 minutes.

California’s approach to high-speed rail suffers from a similar failure to connect. The first segment remains entirely within the Central Valley, not penetrating even the outer edges of the Bay Area or Southern California. That first segment’s endpoints, Merced and Bakersfield, have limited public transportation options; moving on to further destinations would require navigating slow transit connections, or accessing a car.

In California, as in Indonesia, it’s unlikely that either rail plan will ever produce a robust and deeply connected rail system. The obstacle is the same in both places: lack of public money.

Neither Indonesia’s nor California’s government is willing to pay the high costs of a great high-speed rail system. So, both projects are dependent on money from outside the state.

Whoosh’s funding came from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping’s highly touted but largely failed infrastructure loan program. (Chinese entities own a big share of Whoosh as a result). Meanwhile, California, despite state bond funds, needs the federal government to make high-speed rail happen. And Washington is an unstable supporter. The Biden administration recently sent an infusion of $3.1 billion. The Trump administration previously took money away.

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Worse still, both Indonesia and California have seen cost overruns and big delays on their first train segments—scandals that discourage further investment. Whoosh was more than $1 billion over budget, and four years late, on its first $7.2 billion segment. California’s first segment is estimated to cost $33 billion—as much as the estimated cost of the entire system when voters approved it in 2008. Now the entire system’s price tag is $128 billion, with completion still decades away.

What I learned in Java was that, in high-speed rail as in other things, you get what you pay for. And if your government won’t spend the money required to build robust and well-connected rail systems, you won’t get much.



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Antisemitic incidents in California have skyrocketed, Jewish leaders say

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Antisemitic incidents in California have skyrocketed, Jewish leaders say


SACRAMENTO – As protests continue to erupt across the country, Jewish leaders in Northern California say the rate of antisemitic incidents has now broken records.

Universities across the nation have become ground zero for people protesting the Isreal Hamas war.

At Columbia, classes have moved to online learning to keep students safe, barricades have gone up around New York University, and at Yale, things have reached a boiling point.

Tensions on campuses have led to concerns about harassment and safety for the schools’ Jewish communities.

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“So they started taunting me and giving me their middle finger and yelling in my face. And until one of them waved his Palestinian flag in my face and then jabbed me with it in my left eye,” said Sahar Tartek, the editor-in-chief of the Yale Free Press.

“It’s something that the Jewish community feels viscerally in a way that antisemitism hasn’t been felt in a long time,” Mark Levine said. 

Levine is the director of the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region. He says the number of antisemitic incidents has skyrocketed in California.

“We have the highest spike in antisemitism compared to anywhere else nationally. It soared across the U.S. by about 140%. Here in Northern California – a 202% increase,” Levine said.

Pro-Palestinian protestors clashed with police on the campus of Cal Poly Humboldt this week.

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Earlier this month, a legal complaint was filed against UC Davis, alleging antisemitism in the classroom and out around campus.

When asked about recent protests, President Joe Biden denounced antisemitism but said people also need to think of the Palestinian community. 

“I condemn the antisemitic protests, that’s why I’ve set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians,” Biden said.

Some colleges have started to give protestors a deadline to move out. But will they remain? 

“You can criticize a government but still support a country’s right to exist but I think far too many people are saying maybe Israel doesn’t have a right to exist,” Levine said.

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The ADL has a heat map that tracks certain hate crimes on its website.



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Map shows new California high-speed rail routes

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Map shows new California high-speed rail routes


A series of maps show the full extent of California’s proposed high-speed rail routes that would provide an efficient and quick way of travel between the state’s major cities.

Renewed interest has surfaced in high-speed rail travel after Brightline West, a new all-electric, 218-mile rail line bringing passengers from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Rancho Cucamonga, California, broke ground on Monday after construction was delayed for several years.

The project is expected to be completed before the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has another rail line planned that would provide a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours, but progress has been slow.

A rendering of the Brightline West high-speed rail under construction in southern California. The California High Speed Rail Authority is planning a statewide project that would take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in…


Brightline West

According to maps on the Rail Authority’s website, the proposed high-speed rail line would traverse three regions—northern, central and southern California.

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“The Phase 1 system will connect San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin via the Central Valley in under three hours on trains capable of exceeding 200 miles per hour,” the website said. “Phase 2 will extend to Sacramento and San Diego.”

A spokesperson for the Authority told Newsweek that the project is at an “exciting time.” There are 171 miles of rail line under construction, and there is environmental clearance for 422 miles.

“In the last year alone, the Authority has been awarded $3.3 billion in new federal funds to advance the work on the initial operating segment between Merced and Bakersfield, signifying a renewed federal partnership,” the statement said.

Map showing high speed rail California
The map showing the total completed route for a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego.

California High Speed Rail Authority

Northern California project

There are two legs to the northern California project. Phase 1 involves creating a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Merced, with stops in between at Millbrae-SFO, San Jose and Gilroy. Phase 2 would bring travelers from Sacramento to Merced with stops at Stockton and Modesto.

For the San Francisco to San José leg of the journey, the Authority plans to introduce high-speed rail service to the Caltrain corridor. Environmental clearance was completed in 2022, and construction of the Caltrain electrification is under way.

Environmental clearance also was completed for the San José to Merced leg.

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“Electrifying the existing rail corridor from San José to Gilroy will modernize the rail corridor for electrified high-speed rail service and allow Caltrain to extend electrified service to southern Santa Clara County,” the website said.

Northern California route
The northern leg of the high-speed rail route from San Francisco to Merced.

California High Speed Rail Authority

Central California project

The middle stint of the statewide project travels from Merced to Bakersfield with rail stations at Fresno and Kings/Tulare. Construction is most promising in this segment.

“The electrified high-speed rail line between Merced and Bakersfield is the first building block of the statewide system. This 171-mile line will offer the nation’s first true electrified high-speed rail service,” the Authority said on its website.

The spokesperson told Newsweek that this leg of the project is expected to be completed by 2030 to 2033.

Central California route
The central leg of the high-speed rail route.

California High Speed Rail Authority

Southern California project

The southern California stint also involves two phases. Phase 1 would bring travelers from Bakersfield to Anaheim with stops in Palmdale, Burbank and Los Angeles. Phase 2 would travel from Los Angeles to San Diego with stops at San Bernardino and Riverside. The southern California map also shows the Brightline West route.

Southern California route
The southern leg of the high-speed rail route.

California High Speed Rail Authority

The statewide project has been plagued with delays and price jumps. Voters approved the project in 2008, KTLA reported, with Phase 1 taking travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles. At the time, the project was anticipated to be operational by 2020 and cost $33 billion.

Four years past the deadline, the project is still far from being completed and the price has jumped to $128 billion.

“The full Los Angeles to San Francisco line completion date is contingent on federal funding,” the spokesperson told Newsweek.

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According to a U.S. House testimony by Lee Ohanian, a UCLA professor and Stanford University fellow, California began its journey to high-speed rail in 1993 by creating the California Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission. Three years later, the commission was replaced by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“California’s HSR project has little to show over this 30-year period. The project is significantly delayed, and its budget has increased to about four times its initial cost. Some of this is due to mistakes in planning, management, oversight, and accountability,” Ohanian testified.

“But other factors reflect more endemic challenges in building HSR, including limitations in understanding the scope and size of the problems and risks that can arise in such a major infrastructure project.”

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.



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California map reveals areas with most high school dropouts

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California map reveals areas with most high school dropouts


A map shows which counties in California have the highest percentage of high school dropouts.

To determine which counties had the highest percentage of dropouts, Newsweek analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau which tracked the number of residents 25 and over with at least a high school diploma.

The analysis found that Monterey County had the highest percentage of high school dropouts, at 27.3 percent.

That was followed by Colusa County with 26.7 percent, Madera County with 26.4 percent and Merced County with 25.7 percent. Imperial County has 25.5 percent.

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The counties with the highest number of high school graduates were all in northern California. Placer County had the lowest dropout rate, with just 4.4 percent. Other counties—including Trinity, Nevada, Shasta and Plumas—all had fewer than 6 percent.

Newsweek previously reported that California, the nation’s most populous state, ranks at the very bottom of U.S. states when it comes to the number of high school diploma holders. Just 84.7 percent of California residents aged 25 or over have graduated from high school, according to 2022 Census data.

However, the latest data from the California Department of Education has shown that students are graduating from high school at higher levels than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The graduation rate for the class of 2023 was 86.2 percent—down about a percentage point from the previous year, but still higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The data was “encouraging,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in December, but “our work is not complete.”

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California Map Reveals Areas With Dropouts

Photo Illustration by Newsweek

“We have made an unprecedented investment in services that address the needs of the whole child,” Thurmond said. “We can see that those efforts are paying off, but this is only the beginning. We need to continue providing students with the tools they need to excel, especially now that we are successfully reengaging our students and families, so we can close gaps in achievement in the same way that we have begun to close the equity gaps in attendance and absenteeism.”

Students across the country have been absent at record rates since schools reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding further challenges as schools work to help students recover from huge learning setbacks.

Those who end up dropping out of high school could face adverse consequences well into adulthood, according to Jennifer Lansford, a research professor of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

“The long-term consequences of dropping out of high school can be very negative for individuals who drop out, their families, and society as a whole,” Lansford told Newsweek.

She pointed to research that she and colleagues carried out using data from children that were followed from the age of 5 until 27.

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That research found that individuals who dropped out of high school were nearly four times more likely to be receiving government assistance, were twice as likely to have been fired two or more times, and were more than three times more likely to have been arrested since the age of 18.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.



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