In 2008 voters approved $9 billion in bonds for construction under the pretense that the train would cost only $33 billion and be financed primarily by the federal government and private enterprise. Investors, however, won't put up any money because the rail authority's business plans are too risky. Rail companies have refused to operate the train without a revenue guarantee, which the ballot initiative prohibits. Even contractors are declining to bid on the project because they're worried they won't get paid.
Mr. Brown is hoping that Washington will pony up more than $50 billion, but the feds have committed only $3.3 billion so far—and Republicans intend to claw it back if they take the Senate and White House this fall. If that happens, the state won't have enough money to complete its first 130-mile segment in the lightly populated Central Valley, which in any event wouldn't be operable since the state can't afford to electrify the tracks.
None of which is stopping Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is putting the squeeze on California lawmakers to appropriate $6 billion—now. "We can't wait," he says. The White House wants to get the money out the door before the election. It's worried that even some Democratic legislators are getting cold feet as logistical challenges and public opposition mount.