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Feds Restore Trump-Blocked Bullet Train Funds

HSR construction in the Central Valley

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will restore almost $1 billion towards California's High-Speed Rail project. This money was committed years ago but then held up during the previous Administration's spat with the state. From the FRA's Deputy Administrator Amit Bose:

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the State of California have reached a final settlement to resolve the litigation over the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) termination of its Fiscal Year 2010 Cooperative Agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). This settlement agreement follows intensive negotiations between the parties and reflects the Federal government’s ongoing partnership in the development of high-speed rail. It also underscores CHSRA’s commitment to deliver this transformative infrastructure project. The Department is excited about reestablishing this important relationship with the State of California and is committed to fulfilling its oversight responsibilities. This settlement is an important step in advancing an economically transformational project in California.

“This development was made possible because of the strong commitment of the Biden Administration to ambitious, jobs-creating investments in infrastructure, and to state, local and labor leaders across California. The announcement also comes as House Democrats make progress under Chairman Peter DeFazio on a robust surface and rail reauthorization bill, which includes strong funding for intercity and high-speed passenger rail," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement about the FRA decision. "Democrats are committing to bold, historic infrastructure investments that advance prosperity, opportunity and justice for all in our country.”

Governor Gavin Newsom's state budget proposal, meanwhile, commits $4.2 billion to complete the Central Valley spine of the 200+mph system from Bakersfield to Merced, with slower rail connections to Sacramento and the Bay Area in this first phase of the project.

Old and new French high-speed trains in Paris. Image: Wikimedia commons
Old and new French high-speed trains in Paris. Image: Wikimedia commons

Taken together, this sets the stage not just to complete the spine of the system, but for future funding from Washington to link the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, and Anaheim via HSR. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg again confirmed the administration's commitment to the full project in an interview Wednesday with a FOX-TV affiliate in L.A. While acknowledging there are problems, he said the country should nevertheless complete the full California project and not "settle for less... The president believes America should be number one in the world."

Not all state Democrats, however, are on board--at least not yet.

Notably, Southern California Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who heads up the transportation committee, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, have argued that money allocated for electrification of the system--a necessary component of high-speed trains--should be diverted to improvements to commuter trains in their Southern California region.

Legislators deferred approving Governor Gavin Newsom's HSR budget proposal, stating that they were waiting to see more details on future federal funding. As of today, there is more federal funding from the the FRA, and the Biden Administration has been crystal clear that California HSR will be part of a future infrastructure package. Proceeding with electrification and further planning, both in the governor's proposed budget, would put California in an even better position to receive additional federal funding.

Overhead electrification in Connecticut. This is how you move lots of people around, very fast, without burning a drop of petroleum. But some California lawmakers are pushing to abandon HSR by stripping away electrification funds. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Overhead electrification in Connecticut. This is how you move lots of people around, very fast, without burning a drop of petroleum. But some California lawmakers have been pushing to abandon HSR by stripping away electrification funds. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Governor's budget also allocates nearly $3 billion towards commuter rail projects in Southern California, rendering the main reasons given for diverting CAHSR funds moot.

The national HSR Alliance's Rick Harnish, meanwhile, recently wrote an op-ed for Cal Matters urging these lawmakers to support the governor's budget and fund the Central Valley portion, lest they destroy the whole project.

With President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Secretary Buttigieg, the Federal Railroad Administration, and Governor Newsom all in step on supporting California High-Speed Rail, it's time for state legislators to step up. With the restored FRA money and the large California budget surplus, plus federal infrastructure and transportation reauthorization funding on deck, there's plenty of funding to go around. There's no need for legislators to delay the voter-approved rail funds that would be used to get high-speed rail up and running.

"Return of the $929 million in funds that were de-obligated by the Trump administration is an essential step forward for construction of high-speed rail in California. The next critical step will be the Legislature’s approval of the Governor’s budget request for the remaining $4.2 billion in Proposition 1A funds that the voters approved in 2008," wrote the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Michele Boudreau in an email to Streetsblog.

To support CAHSR, sign a petition, and/or contact State Assembly leaders Laura Friedman and Anthony Rendon directly and ask them to support electrification dollars for CA High-Speed Rail and the full build out of the system.

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