High Speed Rail

Feds Cut Off Funding for California Bullet Train, Threaten Potential Clawback of $2.5 Billion

Without a realistic avenue to complete the project, why would they keep helping pay?

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Train construction
Gary Reyes/TNS/Newscom

Now that California Gov. Gavin Newsom has acknowledged the truth—that the state's proposed high-speed train plan doesn't have a realistic future beyond the first stage—the feds (and a gloating President Donald Trump) are swooping in to try to get their money back.

Yesterday the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) sent a letter to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) informing the state agency that the FRA plans to cancel more than $900 million in federal funds set aside to assist in the construction of the Central Valley portion of the route.

This is only part of the $2.5 billion the state has already received from the feds in order to launch the $77 billion-plus boondoggle. The three-page letter sent by the FRA documents that California has not met the terms of the agreement for the grants. California has not contributed adequate state funds, and is now demonstrating that it's not going to complete the project on time. The letter notes that more than 40 status reports submitted to the FRA thus far were either late or lacked necessary details, making it difficult for the FRA to fulfill its oversight role.

Furthermore, the letter notes Newsom's recent state of the state address, during which he announced that he was scaling back the scope of the bullet train. The initial plan called for building a bullet train that traveled between San Francisco and Los Angeles (through the Central Valley) in less than three hours. But funding became a problem, and Newsom acknowledged that it was unlikely to ever be finished, as it's already years behind schedule and billions over budget. Instead, he declared that they'd build the first Central Valley link and then research and work out other ways to connect that portion of the train heading north and south.

The FRA is extending an opportunity for CHSRA to make a case that it's appropriately advancing the project and meeting its goals, and that Newsom's announcement isn't a fundamental change in what the FRA agreed to support. But it also warns that the FRA may terminate the cooperation agreement entirely and attempt to claw back the money it has already sent.

If the FRA goes that route, it could jeopardize finishing even the first leg, unless California makes up the difference. Newsom has responded that this move is political payback for Trump's regular tangles with California; in particular, the Golden State joining others in challenging Trump's "national emergency" to get the border wall funded. From the Los Angeles Times:

"It's no coincidence that the Administration's threat comes 24 hours after California led 16 states in challenging the President's farcical 'national emergency,'" Newsom said in a statement, referring to Trump's emergency declaration to secure funding for his wall on the Mexican border. "The President even tied the two issues together in a tweet this morning. This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by. This is California's money, and we are going to fight for it."

Despite the fact that Trump had previously declared support for high-speed rail (because countries like China have it), he mocked the California bullet train on Twitter and pointed out he's asking for far less for his border wall. This morning he declared he wants the money back:

He's not wrong at all. Not only is the project not what was presented to the FRA, it's not what was presented to the voters when they first approved the project back in 2008.

California will now have a half-built train in a non-urban part of the state that is already served by passenger rail. Over at the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this blog), Baruch Feigenbaum and Marc Joffe note the absurdity of what we're left with:

The operating segment that Gov. Newsom says is going to continue would connect Bakersfield, Hanford, Fresno, Madera and Merced — covering a total distance of about 165 miles in the Central Valley. Realistically, no fiscally prudent government entity or private developer would plan a high-speed rail line to serve such a short, low-density, low-population corridor.

The region is already served by Amtrak's San Joaquins train, which has seven daily departures. The existing Amtrak service is relatively slow, at just over three hours, so a new train could provide faster connections between these cities. But the benefits will be limited. Although high-speed rail has a theoretical maximum speed of 220 miles per hour, average speeds are much slower given time spent in stations, accelerating and decelerating. End to end travel time for Central Valley High-Speed Rail could be in the range of 90 minutes.

Cities at the northern end of the operating segment have relatively low populations, so the most common trip along the route will be between Fresno and Bakersfield, covering a distance of about 110 miles. The current two-hour trip between these cities would likely be reduced to about one hour.

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84 responses to “Feds Cut Off Funding for California Bullet Train, Threaten Potential Clawback of $2.5 Billion

  1. Trump is awesome!

    Obama would have let Commifornia keep the money.

    1. And not a single BOTH SIDES!

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      Fuck You California! This should hasten your economic collapse.

  2. the feds (and a gloating President Donald Trump) are swooping in to try to get their money back.

    pounce…Pounce…POUNCE!

    1. The saved money (snatched back from the Calicommies) will be used to pay for the walls!

      If’n the Mehixicans won’t pay fer it, the Calicommies will!!!

      1. Cali can always ask Mexico to pay for the bullet train. Enough of their citizens live there that they can claim it as a mutual public benefit.

      2. eh, same difference

      3. If the wall along the border had a high speed train on top, would Democrats support it?

      4. No it won’t, it goes back into the general fund. Trump will never get a dime of FEMA money. He’ll be lucky to get a few miles up before a court injunction stops it all. Sorry isolationists WW2 proved you’re full of shit.

  3. Newsom wants that money to provide healthcare for illegal immigrants.

    1. And make up for the shortfall in the dope tax.

  4. Cue Cat Stevens. It the Piece Train.

    1. 😎

      “Piece Train Holey Roller”

  5. Newsom has responded that this move is political payback for Trump’s regular tangles with California

    What are you just standing there for, Newsom?! *Sue* Trump’s ass again!!

    1. He’s got $2.5B of Trump’s money to sue Trump with. Go for broke!

    2. Put CA under martial law and execute Newsom. Hell, execute all the democrats in the state assembly too. And Jim Carrey. Just because.

  6. This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.

    California comes up with a plan. Submits that plan to the Feds to qualify for subsidy. An agreement (one might say a “contract”?) is made. California continually violates the terms of the deal throughout the development. California now states that it will NEVER live up to the terms of the deal. Feds say you no live up to agreement, you no keep money,

    How in ANY way is this CA’s money??

    1. Californians will claim that they are net tax payers?

      That tax money came from them. Hahaha.

      1. You laugh. I bet at some point, someone of prominence will use that same argument.

      2. That’s cool. I always tell people who claim their state is a ‘net taxpayer subsidizing mine’ that I didn’t ask them to and would, seriously, like them to stop.

        If CA wasn’t being forced to pay all that money to the Federal government, then they would have had it on hand to do what they wanted themselves instead of having to beg for some of it back like a prostitute with a pimp.

    2. If you drop out midway thru your Sophomore year, don’t you get to keep 4 years of scholarship money?

  7. It’s important to distinguish between ‘High Speed Rail’ as a technology and THIS PARTICULAR High Speed Rail project, which was a disaster waiting to happen almost from the very first. It MIGHT be possible to build and operate a profitable high speed rail line somewhere in the US. The California project was questionable as originally proposed and was quickly perverted for the benefit of Unions and other such favored vermin.

    And never EVER fall for a ‘High Speed Rail’ project that does not EXPLICITLY say that it means to build dedicated track lines. Such projects that propose to use existing lines, suitable for freight and regular passenger service, are akin to running a Formula One car on a go-cart track. It ain’t gonna get up to top speed, and it ain’t gonna end well.

    1. I am not against advancing technology to create trains that fly or MAGLEV

      1. MAGALEV?

    2. “”And never EVER fall for a ‘High Speed Rail’ project that does not EXPLICITLY say that it means to build dedicated track lines.”‘

      Yep.

      The Acela uses existing lines and gets up to 150 mph in only a few sections. Being on existing lines also means dealing with traffic, so from NYC to New Haven, it can only go as fast as the commuter train in front of it.

      1. Such negativity. I save at least 5 minutes when I take the Acela from Philly to D.C.

      2. Between Washington and Fredericksburg the Amtrak trains delay the commuter trains.

      3. All of this HSR project was on dedicated rail lines separate from existing freight lines, except for the part between Gilroy and San Francisco where it shared track with Caltrain commuter rail. It was supposed to go as fast as 220 mph via an express line that would go from SF to LA and would have had a local slower train that would make stops at various stations.

    3. It’s important to distinguish between ‘High Speed Rail’ as a technology and THIS PARTICULAR High Speed Rail project, which was a disaster waiting to happen almost from the very first. It MIGHT be possible to build and operate a profitable high speed rail line somewhere in the US.

      No, it really isn’t. There isn’t any place even where its theoretically possible to break even economically, let alone make money, with HSR in the US. Maybe, *maybe*, if rail develops had had the foresight to set their rail lines both in places that will serve what became the megacities of the East and West coasts *and* set their courses with sufficiently gentle turns that now, 100 years or more later, you could simply replace them with an HSR track, this could work. But that’s a level of foresight no one in the history of the world has ever managed. Nowadys you’d have to ED hundreds of miles of expensive urban property along the coastal corridors. So you’d get massive upfront costs, massive infrastructure maintenance costs, and no ability to charge fares large enough to cover them because airports are easier and cheaper to set up and planes are easier and cheaper to operate. Oh, and you can change aircraft routes at will. You can’t even add new train stops without it costing millions of dollars.

      Its the ‘light rail vs bus’ thing writ large.

      1. There are only two HSR systems *in the whole world* that have ever made money – and even then not consistently.

        The fact of the matter is rail, for passengers, is obsolete. Aircraft did them in. Use low-speed rail to ship cargo long-distance, trucks for ‘the final mile’ and ship passengers and time-sensitive cargo by plane. Which is pretty much what we already do.

        1. In Ukraine and other places in the former and future Soviet Union, rail is still king but it’s an old feeble king that can barely walk. It will take me more time to get a city by train that has an airport that is a 4 hour drive from my house so I can catch a 90 minute flight to Turkey than it will be for my daughters to fly half way across the world to meet me there.

      2. “”Nowadys you’d have to ED hundreds of miles of expensive urban property along the coastal corridors. So you’d get massive upfront costs, massive infrastructure maintenance costs, and no ability to charge fares large enough to cover them because airports are easier and cheaper to set up and planes are easier and cheaper to operate. Oh, and you can change aircraft routes at will. You can’t even add new train stops without it costing millions of dollars.”‘

        Yeah. People like to ignore all the costs. We are a nation of flyers. Build better aircraft.

        I suspect new supersonic technology will be available before a decent HSR system could be built.

        1. “I suspect new supersonic technology will be available before a decent HSR system could be built.”

          Which might make up for TSA if the flight’s long enough.

        2. Hypersonic planes won’t solve anything but it taking rich people 2 hours to get to Shanghai and London rather than 8-12 in the big planes. Use plebes will be using dino planes like always which aren’t going to get any faster. They’ve actually been on a slowing down trend the past couple of decades.

      3. Maybe, *maybe*, if rail develops had had the foresight to set their rail lines both in places that will serve what became the megacities of the East and West coasts *and* set their courses with sufficiently gentle turns that now, 100 years or more later, you could simply replace them with an HSR track, this could work. But that’s a level of foresight no one in the history of the world has ever managed.

        How ironic that progressives need a Jim Rearden to step up, and he’s nowhere to be found.

        1. Sorry, Hank. Fuck it, it’s been too long since I read the damn book anyway.

      4. I did emphasis ‘MIGHT’.

        I’m of mixed mind. I never liked flying much, and beyond a couple hundred miles, driving is almost as big a penance. IF a rail system existed that got me where I wanted to go in moderate comfort (or great comfort, were I willing to pay for it) I would be tempted to travel again.

        I will never fly again, save for dire emergencies, until the TSA is de-fanged or disbanded. They serve no useful purpose, as the next bunch of yahoos that try to take over a plane full of US citizens with box-cutters (and probably with ANYTHING) is going to get stuffed into the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition.

        But I understand that, while it might serve MY wants nicely, such a system is highly likely to be an overall cluster*ck and money pit. Hell, I really liked and used the Washington Metro when I lived in DC. I even got a bicycle pass for it. I didn’t delude myself for one fat instant that it was a reasonable project, nor was I surprised (disappointed, yes, surprised, no) when I went back recently and discovered that it had devolved into borderline uselessness.

        1. Flying does indeed suck, but getting to Europe or Asia on a boat takes a long ass time.

          As far as “slightly used condition”, well, there’s a reason I wear my knee high lace ups when I fly, even if it is a pain to get through TSA with them. Hijackers on my plane are going to end up more than slightly used.

          I also learned how to knit, so that I would have an excuse to carry long pointy metal objects on the plane with me.

        2. People will forget this nonsense when in 10 years you can say “Car drive me half way across the country while I nap and watch movies.

    4. The system approved by voters in 2008 and funded under the federal stimulus bill was intended to use all dedicated track. This is why they committed to a 2:40 travel time from LA to SF.

      When the cost ballooned to $98 billion, planners switched to a blended system that relies upon existing track in the Bay Area and Los Angeles basin.

      My takeaway is different from yours’: don’t do high-speed rail projects and instead focus on “higher speed” services by adding passing tracks, grade separations and other incremental improvements.

      1. That is what Florida has done. Quite frankly smartphones and ubiquitous internet has made all travel much better. And podcasts make air travel exponentially better even without buying internet access. Spending billions to save 10 minutes isn’t a good idea in this day and age especially when autonomous EVs and VTOL aircraft superior to helicopters are coming sooner rather than later.

    5. It MIGHT be possible to build and operate a profitable high speed rail line somewhere in the US

      No it won’t. Freight rail and passenger rail have very different infrstructure benefits/needs – which you admit when you say they can’t share space. The only places where both of those actually work well together are mountainous countries where you physically don’t have the space to build both rails and road to handle needed traffic volume and both cost a ton/mile.

      The US is very well suited for freight rail infrastructure and that should be the focus – esp for anything federal/interstate assuming it can be done without the sort of cronyism which pretty much defines everything the US has ever done re rail. Passenger rail in the US is purely commuter/intracity/hub based and shouldn’t be federal at all since those require that the local car/rail fight (likewise cannot co-exist in same space) be resolved locally.

  8. The letter notes that more than 40 status reports submitted to the FRA thus far were either late or lacked necessary details

    Of course those were ignored *before*. Its only now that they’re important – when the administration is looking for justifications to claw the money back.

    If Newsom hadn’t opened his mouth, they’d have been fine pouring money down this drain no matter how many shitty status reports they got.

    1. Your transgressions may be small and no one cares, until the spotlight turns to you. Then they will use every little infraction to chew you up.

      That’s the way authority works.

  9. The way forward for High Speed Rail is to forget passenger revenue entirely. Hyperloop & Frakking technologies may be profitably combined by routing high speed trains through tunnels in gas- rich strata, so the piston-like trains can run their engines for free, and shepard the extra natural gas down the tracks to customers in cities at the end of the line.

    Once amortized, the national Gastrak system can apply its gas surplus revenue to paying passengers to ride, thus assuring coast to coast voter support.

    1. SOMEBODY GET ME MUSK ON THE PHONE!

    2. SOMEBODY GET ME MUSK ON THE PHONE!

      1. That’s what *she* said!

    3. Yeah, that sounds safe!

  10. Hey, now this is a real emergency according to Newsom and I’ll bet the 9th court finds that it is indeed unconstitutional for Trump to ask for unspent money back.

    1. A possible avenue is that the voters approved a 2:40 trip between SF and LA, which was never in the cards, so whatever the Feds sent the money for was not the voter-approved HSR, thus they don’t get it back now just because it’s still not the voter-approved HSR.

      That ought to be enough for the 9th. Too bad I can’t get a 10% finder’s fee. I’d even settle for 1%!

    2. Not only is it unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional for the feds to not give them enough to finish the project.

      1. ^That has to be sarcasm 🙂

  11. Cue objections from MAGLEV hat-wearing model train enthusiasts.

  12. YAAAAASSSSS. Eat shit, Cali–now if only Megacity 2 could get the zombie apocalypse that it deserves.

  13. Chicago Police: Jussie Smollett is now a suspect

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    1. Conspiracy to violate constitutional rights of all Caucasians?
      Inciting riot?
      Felony stupid?

      1. Yer on a roll!

  14. Trains could compete. The trick is never stopping the train. If a single car would load at leisure at a station and then accelerate and catch the train as it passed by, the main train would never have to stop. The passengers who did not want to get off on the next station would move forward to the permanently attached cars. You would exit the train by letting go of the last car with the people who need to get off at the next station piling into the final car. You’re average speed going from station to station would be close to optimum. All the stopping and loading ( and accelerating and decelerating) would occur at leisure. This would be quite more energy efficient than the already efficient trains. Right now they are putting together Amtrak from Iowa to Chicago. Every stupid little town in between will want a station stop and that train will spend more time starting and stopping than traveling.

    1. Oh yes, I fly and never take the train in the US. As a side note, I designed a lot of custom equipment for building trains in both Illinois and California.

      1. Taking the train occasionally is fun but basically it costs as much as taking an airplane and 8-10x as long

    2. The shinkansen in Japan do something similar, one of the northbound trains is actually two sets of cars joined at the nose, and at one station they separate, one going northwest to Akita, the other north to Hachinohe. One neat thing I saw was what they do at the end of the line, instead of having a big switchyard to turn the train around, they just rotate the seats in each car and take the train back the way it came in. The thing you’d have to do for your plan would be to build each car with its own engine, like subway cars. The shinkansen don’t have front and back haulers like US trains do, but they can get up to very high speed with each car providing motive power to the whole assembly. If US trains could adopt something similar it might be more efficient. Unfortunately that won’t happen because what we have is “good enough.”

      1. What we have copies most of Europe’s rail system and, you are correct, that is good enough apparently. The Japanese and European high speed rail are great systems, but as implemented there, they will not work here.
        We could do better. And only the end cars would need to be powered.

    3. Being one who enjoys AMTRAC travel, I find that if freight trains are coming through, AMTRAC sits on a side track until he freight has passed. Not any chance of optimization of travel.

  15. Unfortunately, the downsizing leaves San Francisco with an overbuilt Transbay Transit Center, a $2.2 billion structure intended to be the high-speed rail system’s northern terminus. Also orphaned is the $188 million Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transportation Center in Orange County. These two facilities are now relegated to primarily being enormous bus stations.
    SoCal wasted less money and actually has rail at the station. You suck, Frisco.

  16. In commercial real estate development, there’s a word for taking money for a specific project and then not using it to build that project. It’s called “fraud”.

    People get thrown in jail for fraud.

    1. In politics, they get re-elected.

      1. Especially in California! They lobby on how much money they can STEAL.

        1. *campaign* – wrong word choice.

    2. It’s not commercial real estate though. Just like a parrot isn’t a eagle.

  17. “He’s not wrong at all. Not only is the project not what was presented to the FRA, it’s not what was presented to the voters when they first approved the project back in 2008.”

    When can we expect to see the FBI raiding offices in Sacramento?

  18. Let me get this straight.

    In a state, the major development center for technology like autonomous driving cars, trucks, drones for commercial transport and other uses, commercial space launches, hyperloop travel, we are talking trains?

    Seems like a waste to invest in a big system at this point. Technology is moving much faster. The greenies are just putting money in the pockets of politicians and contractors.

  19. It seems pretty standard that, if you take money to do something, and then decide not to do it, you have to give the money back. So, why try to make Trump the villain here? (That’s a rhetorical question, I HAVE heard of TDS.)

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  22. I predicted cost overruns and that it would never be finished a couple of years ago. So glad I was able to predict something that, in hindsight, was easier than predicting the weather in the Mojave desert.

    1. people predicted cost overruns the day it was mentioned over a decade ago. That’s what happens in government jobs. You’re no nostradamus.

  23. Newsom is trying to cover for the absolute incompetence and malfeasance of CA. His law suit against the wall could be considered political payback just as easily. Newsom is the handsome panderer.

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