The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is attempting to prevent President Joe Biden from awarding federal grant funding to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Legislation presented by GOP lawmakers would dramatically cut spending on passenger train programs, including more than a 60% cut to Amtrak, and a direct block of any federal funding to be awarded to California’s high-speed rail projects.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is currently awaiting word on a federal grant that would award it around $2.8 billion which it says would allow it to complete the initial operating segment between Merced to Bakersfield, allow for the purchase of six electric trainsets and construct the rail station in Fresno.
CAHSR is also seeking a multi-year funding agreement that would result in around $8 billion in grant funds to be allocated for the state’s most ambitious public transportation infrastructure project in history.
The GOP opposition comes weeks after CAHSR was awarded a $202 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to construct six grade separations in the city of Shafter, about 18 miles northwest of Bakersfield in Kern County.
Despite being targeted by GOP lawmakers, the project has powerful allies in both President Biden and California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Earlier this month, Newsom wrote a letter to the president and urged him to approve the federal grant to help make the high-speed rail system a reality.
The governor also just returned from a trip to China, in which he discussed clean energy and climate change initiatives with Chinese leaders and took a ride on China’s expansive high-speed rail system.
Biden has previously shown support for the California project, restoring a nearly $1 billion grant to the High-Speed Rail Authority in 2021 that had been blocked by the Trump Administration.
Perhaps the most well-known supporter of passenger rail, Biden has long advocated for Amtrak funding and was a regular rider during his time in the Senate.
Federal support for America’s passenger rail systems was a key component of the president’s landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill. White House officials oppose the GOP-backed legislation and any cuts it brings with it.
The California High-Speed Rail released the following statement following the news of the GOP’s plan to back any federal grant funding:
“We appreciate the White House position that will allow us to continue making progress on this transformative project, still very much underway with over 11,000 construction jobs created and work having begun to extend the 119 miles under construction to 171 miles of future electrified high-speed rail from Merced to Bakersfield. The Authority has also environmentally cleared 422 miles of the high-speed rail program from the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin.”Melissa Figueroa, CAHSR Chief of Strategic Communications
The statement is consistent with the messaging CAHSR has been putting out all year, that much has already been built and the project is past the point of no return. Officials have previously said that the project will only become more expensive the longer it takes to build.
The initial operating segment between Merced and Bakersfield is tentatively scheduled to begin operation around 2030. That portion of the rail system comprises “Phase 1” of the project, which seeks to unite the Bay Area with the Los Angeles Metropolitan area via electric trains that can reach speeds of more than 200 mph.
Phase 2 aims to expand the system from north to Sacramento and south to San Diego.
The House will vote on the proposed legislation on Wednesday.