Hercule Poirot and the California High-Speed ​​Train Murder

“Stop where you are,” said the mustachioed detective, with a European accent, as he entered the hemicycle.

“There’s been a murder here at the Capitol!”

Lawmakers seemed perplexed. Had they entered an Agatha Christie novel?

A Progressive Democrat said: ‘We are not aware of any murders, other than our usual killing of moderate political careers. Who is your victim?

The detective holds up a handkerchief bearing the monogram “HSR”.

” It is not possible ! shouted the governor, who had rushed to the bedroom upon learning that international media might be present. “The only bullet train we know of is the High Speed ​​Rail, America’s most ambitious project. And it’s not dead. »

The detective raised an eyebrow. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because I’m saving it,” the governor said, “by reducing the San Francisco to Los Angeles project to a Merced to Bakersfield route.”

“Governor, you just confessed! replied the detective. “Proposing a $100 billion train between two cities without a Michelin-starred restaurant between them demonstrates murderous intent toward the very concept of passenger rail travel.

“Next question: Governor, did you act alone? »

“Are you accusing me, Inspector?” said the Speaker of the Assembly from the dais. “Who are you anyway? How did you get here?”

“I am Mr. Hercule Poirot and I was on the express for Istanbul when Interpol called me. I flew Turkish Airlines to SFO, took BART to Amtrak to Sacramento which was lovely but empty. Then I made the mistake of trying the Sacramento light rail, which smelled like a crime scene…but, Mr. President, you didn’t answer my question.

“Well,” the speaker replied, “you can’t suggest that Southern California Democratic lawmakers killed it. We’re just trying to improve the bullet train by reallocating some of the money from the Central Valley to regional rail projects.

Poirot frowned. “Retraining? Curious choice of words. And you do it by denying the project $4.2 billion in voter-approved bond funds. Mr. Speaker, the legislature tops my list of suspects. I don’t care about your campaigns; none of you can leave Sacramento.

“Why do you attribute the murder to the Democrats? interjected the Republican leader. “We have been working for years to kill high-speed rail.”

“What good is the confession of a party that claims the last election was rigged. High-speed rail is a major economic stimulus for the Central Valley, which many Republicans represent. What does killing him mean? You are engaged in self-harm. I’m having you kept for observation and psychological evaluation.

There was noise from the gallery, as the lobbyist streamed in to watch. One of them stood up and said, “Inspector, I come from the building and construction trades, and you’re wrong. Our trade union organizations are powerful and do not want this to die. We want to build it. We have protected high-speed rail for years, including from legislative oversight. »

“And it didn’t work well?” asked the detective rhetorically. “Furthermore, you demand salaries that would be considered exorbitant even among corporations on the European continent. Your demands have made building a bullet train, or anything else, outrageously expensive in this state. Please consider yourself suspect for the death of this project and the California dream.

Another visitor spoke. “I represent the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority, and I assure you that we are still building a high-speed rail and are committed to completing the project.”

“I’m sorry. But do you have all the land assembled to build the rail, 14 years after voters approved the project?”

“Not yet, but…”

“And the removals of public services? »

“We’re almost halfway through the Central Valley.”

“And does the authority have the necessary personnel to manage such a project?

“I can’t talk about that. I’m just one of the consultants.

The detective inspected a legislative chamber filled with suspects. He thinks for a minute.

“It reminds me of a case much earlier in my career, written in a book called Murder on the Orient Express. A train got stuck and a man was murdered.

“I had a wide variety of suspects. The passengers all put on a great show saying they were trying to save the victim. But in the end, all were guilty.

“The difference between the California high-speed train and that railroad murder is that on the Orient Express, those killers had the grace to recognize what they had done. So, I showed them mercy.

“Recent poll shows Californians still want high-speed rail, so you refuse to admit. You have already killed HSR. But you can’t admit the crime.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.

Jose P. Rogers