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High-speed rail is transit system catering to elite
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High speed rail: Is it a big enough of a hot button item to determine who will get elected as the 5th District State Senator in November representing all of Stanislaus County?

The race includes Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani who is one of the primary architects of the bond measure authorizing up to $9 billion that can be tapped for the California High Speed Rail as well as the Altamont Commuter Expression's own high speed service.

The other two major players in the race - Assembly member Bill Berryhill and South San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas - have gone from being one-time supporters to being opponents. Simply put, they are turned off by the deception, the skyrocketing cost of the project, the potential burden for taxpayers, and the wanton destruction of agricultural operations by the rail commission decision to abandon the Highway 99 corridor to cut through farmland on the assumption it would create less opposition.

It also pits two key constituencies in the 5th District against each other - farmers who oppose it and organized labor that embraces it.

Gov. Jerry Brown threw down the gauntlet in his State of the State Address by implying that those who oppose high-speed rail essentially don't believe California has a bright and growing future.

Amid all the rhetoric, one question hasn't been answered: Just who are the Californians who will ride high-speed rail? That is a much different question than projected ridership numbers since it speaks to the viability of high speed rail as a mass transit system.

If the state rail system was a true commuter line like the ACE version it would have a more dependable ridership pool to draw from.

Obviously people who want to go from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco and vice versa - think corporate types and political animals - will see high-speed rail as a viable and reasonably priced alternative.

But what if you're working class or even part of the struggling portion of the middle class? Would you take your family of four on high-speed rail to go to Disneyland or visit relatives in Los Angeles?

Given that the ticket from north to south will likely cost $100 a pop now in 2012 dollars that is $400 right off the bat for just part of the travel. You also have to get from the L.A. station to your ultimate destination. That means taking surface transit, hailing a cab, or renting a car. If you want to go to multiple destinations on your own schedule in L.A. that means a cab or a rental car. That costly scenario - which probably is real to the lion's share of Californians - starts making $6 and even $7 a gallon gas look reasonable when it comes to going from the north state to LA.

This is not a grand public works project such as freeways, dams, water canals, and such that ultimately touches the lives of almost every Californian in a positive manner. Instead, this is a massive public works project that will provide only a reasonable amount of uptick in jobs for the short term and will be accessed primarily by folks who can afford to pick up their portion what is looking more and more like a heavily taxpayer subsidized fare tab.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.