A recent Atlantic Cities article by Eric Jaffe suggests one direction of inquiry. The article looks at UCLA research on Chinese rail projects that indicates second-tier California cities like Bakersfield could reap huge economic benefits from a bullet train. “The researchers found evidence that housing prices are appreciating in the secondary cities connected to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou by the bullet systems,” Jaffe wrote. One of the co-authors of the research paper even joked about buying property in Bakersfield because, when it comes to the California bullet train, “there are serious real estate implications.”

So far, news coverage of the California high-speed rail project has largely ignored these implications. Making a profit off development driven by grandiose infrastructure initiatives is an endeavor as Californian—and as fascinating—as the movie Chinatown. Efforts to explain who will benefit, across the state, on the economic benefits that will inevitably flow from completion of the train could constitute an organizing principle for coverage that brings clarity to a project that has, despite hard work by many talented journalists, remained a contradictory mystery for many news consumers.

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John Mecklin is the California and Nevada correspondent for the United States Project, CJR's politics and policy desk. He is the deputy editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Follow him on Twitter @meckdevil.