The first leg of the system is planned to run between Fresno and Bakersfield. If those names don't ring a bell with you, there is a reason. They are modest-sized communities out in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, well removed from San Francisco or Los Angeles.
You can bet the rent money that high-speed rail traffic between Fresno and Bakersfield will never come within shouting distance of covering the operating costs. Some people have analogized putting such a rail line between these two towns to the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.
Why are they doing it? Because they can.
If they began this project where they want it to go -- between San Francisco and Los Angeles -- they would run into so much opposition from the environmentalists, and from local politicians influenced by the environmentalists, that the delays could take the high-speed rail advocates beyond the time limit for using the federal subsidy money. But the green fanatics have not yet taken over politically out in the San Joaquin Valley.
The only reason for even thinking about building a high-speed rail line between Fresno and Bakersfield is just to get the project underway with federal money, making it politically more difficult to stop the larger project for a similar rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In other words, they are going to start wasting money out in the valley, so that they will be able to waste more money later on, along the coast. This may not make any sense economically, but it can make sense politically for Jerry Brown and Barack Obama.
An old song ended, "You've been running around in circles, getting nowhere -- getting nowhere very fast." On high-speed rail.