High-Speed Rail Money Seized by Trump Restored to California

  • Nearly $1 billion to be returned to project
  • Reflects Biden administration prioritization of rail

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The Biden administration is returning nearly $1 billion in federal funds to a California high-speed rail project that had been clawed back by the Trump administration.

Two years after California filed a legal challenge, the Department of Transportation and California reached a settlement to restore a $929 million grant agreement. The move reflects broader efforts from the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to spend more on rail as Republicans have tried to block federal funds to the California project.

Photo: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A crane moves equipment during construction on the San Joaquin River viaduct section of a high-speed rail project in Madera, Calif., on Feb. 13, 2020.

“This vote of confidence and restored close working relationship between the Department and the Authority will keep this transformative project moving down the track,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a release Thursday night.

Democrats’ $547 Billion Highway Bill Advances in House Panel

California has spent more than a decade working on a bullet train, but the project has been hindered by excess costs and delays. The FRA in 2019 canceled a 2010 agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, saying the authority “failed to make reasonable progress on the project” and meet the terms of their agreement.

The Biden administration is touting rail as a major part of the future of U.S. transportation, with President Joe Biden proposing $80 billion for it in his initial $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan infrastructure package. House Democrats also proposed a funding boost for rail in the surface transportation reauthorization measure (H.R. 3684) they advanced this week.

Talks to restore the funds began after Biden took office and soon became as often as weekly, said California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly.

“Without a federal partner it becomes very difficult to do anything of this magnitude,” he said in an interview in March. “It wasn’t just the rescission of the money but also the total disengagement on the project from our federal partner that made this extremely difficult and challenging.”

Bipartisan $78 Billion Rail, Safety Bill Proposed by Senators

Republican Pushback

Republicans have been committed to keeping federal dollars away from the high-speed rail project.

California Republican Reps. Doug LaMalfa and Michelle Steel tried to attach an amendment to the House surface transportation bill that would have diverted federal funding away from the project. The amendment was rejected in a 30-38 vote.

“California’s High Speed Rail Project is a failure, and not one more taxpayer dime should go towards this money pit project,” Steel said. “We should be focusing on boosting passenger safety and improving our existing highways and railroads — not wasting taxpayer money on a train to nowhere.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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