I’m that rare California bird – the high-speed rail critic who has been converted to strong supporter (with a bunch of caveats—it has to be done right). Much of the rest of the state, and especially the political class, has been migrating in the opposite direction.

Which is fine by me. When you’re swimming against the tide in California, you’re usually going the right direction.

But Wasco is too far for even me to swim.

It’s Ok if you’ve never heard of Wasco. It’s a lovely little San Joaquin Valley town and that’s not on either the main thoroughfares of Interstate 5 and Highway 99. It got some publicity recently when a presumably local resident began dressing as a scary clown – the Wasco Clown – and detailing his adventures on Twitter. Soon, there were copycats all over the valley.

It’s also a railroad town—it has a stop on the popular Amtrak San Joaquin line. That’s not terrible. But Wasco now has a problematic pride of place: as southern terminus for the first phase of high-speed rail.

This is one of the adjustments in the new high-speed rail business plan approved earlier this spring. To save money and avoid the difficulty of tunneling through the Tehachapis to Southern California, the high-speed rail authority decided Phase 1 would go not from the San Joaquin Valley to Burbank but instead from the San Joaquin Valley to San Jose.

Fair enough, but for reasons of expense (and some other things), the plan made Wasco the bottom of the new phase – coming up short of Bakersfield, which should be the southern terminus of such a stretch.

That’s wrong. High-speed rail can make sense if it connects places with lots of people, and Bakersfield is a big city by American standards (even if Californians don’t think about it that way). It has more people (363,000) than St. Louis (318,000). A station in the heart of Bakersfield’s downtown is vital to the project’s ability to connect us. Wasco has just 25,000 people—it doesn’t need a connection on high-speed rail.

Now, those in the know tell me that a Wasco station would just be temporary. That it’s part of a financially realistic business plan. And that it gives Bakersfield some time to figure out the right place for a station (Bakersfield folks have been foolishly interested in a station outside their downtown).

I understand it, but think Wasco is still a mistake. It sends a misleading message about high-speed rail. It puts pure expediency above making the case for high-speed rail—it connects California’s population centers, coastal and inland, and creates a spine for transit development in our cities.

Wasco is the wrong place for rail, and for the conversation about rail – if the idea is to convince more Californians of the project’s value.