Funding for high-speed rail eliminated in next year’s federal budget

President Obama signed a bill today authorizing transportation spending for the next fiscal year. The big news: no money was allocated for high-speed rail — which Republicans had been targeting as wasteful — while there were slight bumps upward in funds for transit projects.

The obvious question is what does this mean, if anything, for California’s high-speed rail project? The project has already been awarded $3.9 billion in federal funds.

Here’s the top of the Associated Press story:

Congress voted Thursday to kill funds for President Barack Obama’s signature high-speed rail program, but the initiative may have some life in it still.

Republican lawmakers are claiming credit for killing the program. But billions of dollars still in the pipeline will ensure work will continue on some projects. And it’s still possible money from another transportation grant program can be steered to high-speed trains.

Obama had requested $8 billion in fiscal 2012 for the program and $53 billion over six years.

But House-Senate bargainers this week agreed to a broad spending bill that eliminates any funding specifically for high-speed trains. The House approved that legislation Thursday 298-121 and the Senate followed suit 70-30, sending the measure to the White House.

It sounds like there is money available to begin construction on high-speed rail tracks on the first segment of the line in the San Joaquin Valley, but the project overall remains more than $80 billion shy of the funds needed to build the entire line from San Francisco to Anaheim. Whether the state chooses to begin construction next year without those dollars remains to be seen.


11 replies

  1. If we’re really serious about high-speed rail, and I think we need to be, we have to start in the Central Valley.

    The San Joaquin Valley is the only area that’s going to be flat, straight and fast enough to grab the attention of Japanese investors.

  2. If some people that ate criticising the California High Speed rail (HSR) have ever rode the route between Bakersfield and Stockton on about any day, they would be pleasantly shocked to see the average joe citizen NOT a corporate or business person riding a very well used section of the Amtrak system.
    The idea was to start at this section THEN expand on each end (north and south until the system was finished. (given the nature of california politics, each side, north and south would come away from the budget table with a new section each year.
    So with that said, Lancaster/Palmdale would get their HSR to Union Station in round 2 or 3 of the expansion.
    All I am saying is you have to start somewhere and the plan is solid, we as SoCal residents have to be supportive or face even more gridlock and no progress.
    Oh, if you wanted jobs, this plan would provide thousands of short term jobs and good paying long term jobs for Californians. I call that win-win made in the USA and not imported from elsewhere.

  3. I feel that any construction done on this project should have the goal of at least connecting the San Joaquin valley to the Southland. Building high speed tracks in the Central Valley but then not connecting them to LA would make no sense. The interim solution for this whole HSR project in light of this much more limited funding should be slower trains (110/125 mph maybe up to 150 mph with electrification) but on a complete line from LA to the Bay Area rather than super fast trains but only going as far south as Bakersfield. I’m only saying this because I think further funding after the San Joaquin section may not ever happen, therefore leaving LA still unconnected to the Central Valley. However, what Y mentioned is an interesting Idea although I get the feeling that politics and environmentalism just might get in the way. It simply makes too much sense to be possible.

  4. Food for thought:

    The Japanese yen is very strong right now. Let’s ask the Japanese corporations for funding in exchange for rare earth metal deposits in Mountain Pass, CA.

    Rare earth metals which are mainly used for hybrid vehicles, lithion ion batteries, and high tech equipment are currently monopolized by the Chinese who get to set their own prices as they please.

    We have the same rare earth metals sleeping in Mountain Pass that are worth billions of dollars waiting to be dug up.

    How about we sell those rare earth mineral deposits to Japanese corporations for a cheaper price than the Chinese, and in turn, we receive billions in strong Japanese yen to fund the high speed rail project?

    It’s a win-win not only economically, but ecologically as well; we let the Japanese companies buy our rare earth deposits to make more fuel efficient hybrid cars, which in turn we get the strong Japanese yen to fund our environmentally friendly high speed rail system.

  5. Good chance now to rethink our HSR. If we are going to have limited $, build LA to Bakersfield first. Benefits Amtrak, links north and south with much better through trains rather than buses. Now you can run trains from Oakland and Sacramento to San Diego.. Then from their, go incremental on improvements in So Cal and No Cal.

  6. We still have to address capacity, and transportations issues in our LA-SF corridor though. Cutting the funding doesn’t make the problem go away. Ask the people who drive Wilshire if their problem went away. Expanding the highways, and airports would be much more expensive than HSR. We need to fight and get HSR supportive individuals back into congress. And once again those concerned with the costs. Do nothing? The problems won’t go away if you just talk about costs, but instead do something now when costs are low and create jobs along the way.

  7. The high-speed projects are going to be a case-study on the strategy of incremental change (the Chicago network model) verses big-bang development (The LA/SF model).

    Under the IL model, a train might sometimes go 120mph, sometimes 80mph, or sometimes much less. But it will be in place and gradually gaining ridership while the CA runs up bills without providing service.

  8. My understanding from this is that there is no money specifically set aside for HSR, but there is nothing prohibiting the open transit spending from being used for it, correct?

    Of course, many (myself included) would probably hope that money for regional transit does not get taken and put towards HSR, so this may effectively kill support for the project even within the transit advocate community.

    • Hi Steve;

      There are apparently other potential sources of federal funding for the project. And there’s no reason that a future Congress couldn’t choose to restore funding, although that depends on politics. But the fact remains that the project in California needs many billions of dollars and it doesn’t appear the chances to get that kind of money from the federal government are very good at this time. Again, things can change but it’s certainly a tough decision for policymakers: is it wise to begin the project without knowing where future funding is coming from?

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  9. It would have been nice, but lets face the facts (in my opinion) that the only people that would have rode a high speed train from L.A. to S.F. (or S.F. to L.A.) would have only been the corporate world people (no offense. I would rather see a high speed train for everybody, that went from Vegas to Victorville, than a split into two railways. One high speed train would follow run parallel to the 138, the 14, and the 5 into the Antelope Vly.,Sylmar, Burbank, into L.A. and one high speed train would run parallel to the 15 and the 10 into the Inland Empire, San Gabriel Vly. East Los, into L.A. This plan would most likly have a boom in real estate in Palmdale/Lancaster, and San Bernardino county Desert cities. Not to mention waaaaaaay less accidents on the 15 from DUI’s because they would not be behind the wheel (obviously)