California High-speed Rail Fans Hope Biden ‘Infrastructure Plan’ Saves Bullet Train

Signing high-speed rail track (Gary Kazanjian / Associated Press)
Gary Kazanjian / Associated Press

Supporters of the California High-speed Rail Authority hope that President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion “infrastructure plan” will provide money to save the near-defunct project, especially with the backing of Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

However, the San Jose Mercury-News reported Sunday, even Biden’s new spending may not be enough for the project:

The $2.3 trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden rolled out last week has backers of the California bullet train dreaming of what could be.

The torrent of federal funding could provide the beleaguered project with billions of dollars needed to bring high-speed rail to the Bay Area or even Los Angeles. Or its share could be much, much less.

One thing is for sure: Without a whole lot more federal money, it could end up being a costly, controversial train with only five stops between Merced and Bakersfield.

[Ethan] Elkind, the director of the Climate Program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment, cautioned that even the massive spending plan Biden is proposing will not be enough to deliver the whole project. The cost of building the electrified high-speed San Francisco-to-Los Angeles train voters were sold on back in 2008 has soared to as much as $100 billion.

As Breitbart News has noted, the California “bullet” train has suffered a number of problems, starting with the fact that it would not connect Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours, as originally advertised. Environmental problems, plus difficulty in obtaining the rights of way, made the project more costly over time.

As Breitbart News noted in February:

Voters approved the initial bond funding for the high-speed rail project in 2008, under Proposition 1A. The newly-elected Obama administration spent billions of dollars on high-speed rail under then-Vice President Joe Biden’s leadership in the 2009 stimulus bill, though none of the projects amounted to much. Only California, under then-Gov. Jerry Brown, took high-speed rail seriously — though cost overruns, environmental concerns, and right-of-way concerns delayed the project.

As Breitbart News noted:

[O]ver time, the project grew more and more expensive, rising from an initial estimate of $37 billion in 2008 to nearly $100 billion according to an estimate last year. In 2014, Breitbart News revealed that the “high-speed” train would not be so “high-speed” after all, running slower on tracks from San Jose to San Francisco, and from the San Fernando Valley into downtown Los Angeles. The earliest the project might have been completed was in 2033.

In 2019, newly-installed Gov. Newsom announced to the state legislature in his “State of the State” speech that the high-speed rail project would effectively be canceled, because it “would cost too much and, respectfully, would take too long.” He promised, however, that the state would still build a portion of the line under construction in the rural Central Valley.

Then-President Donald Trump did something few presidents had done before: he demanded that California return federal money it had taken for the project, since it was no longer planning to deliver on its promises. He canceled a $929 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and tweeted: “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a “green” disaster!” Gov. Newsom resisted, to no avail.

The California High-speed Rail Authority revealed earlier this year that it hopes to build the rural portion of the train, using $4.1 billion in state bond funds. However skeptics have said that a “mini-bullet train” would hardly justify the heavy cost.

Former Gov. Brown touted the project as a way to fight climate change, but any beneficial effects of the train are likely to be minimal. Moreover, critics have noted that only 25% of Biden’s “infrastructure” plan actually targets infrastructure spending.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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