Feds pull $1B from rail project

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern County elected officials — some of the strongest opponents of previous Gov. Jerry Brown’s High Speed Rail project — are urging California’s leaders to abandon the project in response to the federal government’s action May 16 to remove nearly $1 billion in funding for the beleaguered bullet train.

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom questioned the viability of the project, the costs for which continued to balloon. He proposed eliminating the proposed San Francisco-to-Los Angeles route, in favor of serving a tiny portion in the Central Valley.

However, opponents continued to decry the cost overruns (to the tune of billions) and noted that the proposed route had no identifiable ridership to support the longterm sustainability for revenue. Others noted that the shortened run no longer qualified the rail project as “high-speed.”

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportations’s Federal Railroad Administration rescinded nearly $929 million in unspent federal funds, citing that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had violated the terms of its original agreement.

“The California high-speed rail project has been inherently flawed from the beginning,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. “Timelines have not been met, ridership projections have been exaggerated and the budget has ballooned by tens of billions of dollars.”

He said the FRA’s decision ensures that California moves on “from the failed boondoggle and focuses on actual solutions that help Californians — like desperately needed water storage and infrastructure projects.”

He urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the California delegation to schedule the “RAILWAY Act” for a vote on the House floor, which would ensure that the federal money will come back to California to support water solutions.

“The high-speed rail project has run off its rails and become a massive waste of taxpayer dollars,” said State Sen. Republican Leader Shannon Grove.

“The federal government acknowledged what everyone who isn’t being paid by the authority already knows — California’s high-speed rail project is dead. The only question that remains is, how many more taxpayer dollars are going to be wasted chasing the impractical dream?”

She said that without the rescinded funding, the state cannot complete its proposed Merced-to-Bakersfield line.

“When voters were asked to consider this project, it looked a lot different. Now, the project will take longer, will cost more money and will no longer travel to its original destination,” said Grove.

“This is not the project voters approved. It is time for California to cancel this big rail fail.”

“The California High Speed Rail Authority was relying on federal funding to salvage its floundering and structurally flawed project,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong. “With the federal funds now officially being withdrawn, there is no path forward for this failed project.

“We need to deal with this reality head on and officially scrap this project entirely to protect taxpayers.”

According to McCarthy’s office, the FRA is also exploring options regarding the return of an additional $2.5 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds given to CHSRA.

Story First Published: 2019-05-19