High Speed Rail

Will President-Elect Joe Biden Make All of America Pay for California's Bullet Train?

A struggling, costly boondoggle sees a much friendlier administration taking charge.


Joe Biden's election as president may be just what California's financially strapped money pit of a high-speed rail plan needs to keep going, regardless of whether or not it's a sound idea (it's not).

Biden wants to spend $11 trillion on an assortment of policies. He is noted for his love of trains and, during the Democratic primary debates, promoted a national network of high-speed rail, which he said would get millions of cars off the road. That's likely not true: in the event that America did have a national high-speed train network, it would probably draw customers mostly away from airlines, not personal cars.

Regardless, Biden made high-speed rail part of his campaign platform. However, there's an interesting omission in the transit plans listed on his transition site. Here's what he's promising to do:

Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities—ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Nothing there about high-speed rail or expansion of train systems beyond cities. But maybe it's in his national infrastructure section? Nope. Here's what that says:

Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure—from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband—to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.

Again, no national bullet train. Surprisingly, given Biden's adoration of them, there's no reference to trains at all.

Don't read too much into it. Biden has selected teams to review all federal agencies for his transition into office. To head the team analyzing the Department of Transportation (and Amtrak), he chose the CEO of Los Angeles County's transit agency, Phil Washington. Washington is big on light rail, working on expansions for it in Los Angeles and in his previous work heading Denver's transit program. Therese McMillan, executive director of the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is also on the team, along with several union representatives. Notably, there is nobody from Lyft, Uber, or any other company that provides market-based solutions to transit needs.

California's high-speed rail does not immediately appear to be a top priority for Biden, nor should it be. The finances of California's high-speed rail project are simply not in a good place right now. First of all, the project itself is a massive money pit, and costs have skyrocketed far beyond what taxpayers agreed to when they approved Proposition 1A in 2008. That proposition allocated $9 billion to start the project, which voters were told would ultimately cost $33 billion. The rail project is now estimated to cost more than $80 billion to complete. It also won't be as fast as promised and will likely need continued government subsidies to actually operate.

Second, the skyrocketing costs have collided with the terrible fiscal impacts of the coronavirus. California is now facing massive deficits due to declines in tax revenue due to the pandemic and lower-than-projected revenues from cap-and-trade greenhouse gas auctions, a portion of which are devoted to the train line's construction.

Probably the most important concern from California's rail project right now is that the Department of Transportation under President Donald Trump has frozen a federal grant of more than $900 million promised under President Barack Obama. The Trump administration justified freezing the funds by citing the rail project's inability to meet its schedule and claiming that the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has misused the money it already received.

So, will the Biden administration reverse course and possibly come up with more money for California's rail system? The transition team's press office declined to respond to emailed questions from Reason asking about possible high-speed rail funding plans. CHRSA Chief Executive Officer Brian Kelly responded with a simple statement, saying, "We hope to establish a functional and cooperative relationship with our federal partner on this project. We are encouraged by the opportunity to do so."

NEXT: America Is Drowning in Pandemic Debt, but Congress Still Wants To Buy the Pentagon New Toys

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  1. One is starting to get the sense that Reason is maybe realizing that Trump, for all his faults and character defects, was the lesser of two evils.

    Well, fuck.

    1. One, maybe, but I think only you.

      1. Hey, I prefer oranges over liver spots. How about you?

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    2. No, there’s nothing new here. They had these stories delayed until now.

      1. Pray tell, to what end?

      2. Well, there wouldn’t be much point to stories speculating about what a President Biden would do if he hadn’t (apparently) won the election.

    3. Really? The sense I get is that this is exactly what the Reason writers wanted.

    4. No, Reason is part of the media that has covered for Joe since he started his run for POTUS. Like most of the the other never Trump media Reason also hates Trump so Biden would not be in the same negative view.

  2. President-Elect … ?

    1. Well, just a soon as the electoral college meets and votes in his favor – –

      1. President-Elect Longtobefree carries equal weight today.

      2. You’re right. It’s not decided. An asteroid could still strike the planet.

        1. You probably don’t know this, but some asteroids are very small and made of lead …

          1. I’ve heard some of them cause fatal brain aneurysms and some of them cause spontaneous suicide as well.

    2. It’s particularly odd in this headline since “president-elect” Biden won’t be making anyone pay for anything. That has to wait until he is President Biden.

    3. You may as well say President-Elect Jorgensen. It’s just as accurate.

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  4. Biden, like Reverand Lovejoy loves to play with trains. He long protected Amtrak even though they are a money pit full of ways for corruption to occur.

    1. “even though”? The money pit and corruption ops were undoubtedly part of the appeal.

      1. Worldwide, people go into politics to get rich by getting in the way of business, then something happens, and they get back out of the way.

        This isn’t an abberation. It is government working as designed. They have to hide it better here.

    2. Pack everyone into a trains and busses to spread viruses!

    3. It’s amazing how public rail has been a corrupt boondoggle in America CONSISTENTLY since the 1840’s and the leftists still push this crap.

      1. That’s why they push it. The best case they can make is giving jobs to union construction, who will vote for them, and donate to them.

        The fraction of dollars corrupted is miniscule compared to total costs, but far from making it an acceptable trade, it makes for godawful effiency of spent tax dollars vs. corrupt skimming, the real driver of the spending to begin with.

  5. It may be outrageous that Biden is willing to waste billions of dollars bailing out a failed boondoggle in California known as the high-speed train project, but it’s nothing compared to the trillions of dollars he’s going to waste on bailing out that failed boondoggle known as the State of California – especially since Biden will also be bailing out those failed boondoggles known as Chicago, New York, Illinois and New Jersey.

    1. Forcing federal taxpayers elsewhere in the country to bail out California’s, Illinois’, and New York’s out of control unfunded pension obligations should provoke a bigger uproar than the Tea Party reaction to bailing out Wall Street and deadbeat home buyers.

      Suderman is famous for making interesting predictions about what will and won’t happen based on an issue’s popularity, but, in addition to that, there are two other things that need to be accounted for this time:

      1) The Democrats already know they’ll lose control of the House in 2022–just by historical averages. The president’s party almost always takes a beating in his first Midterm. They have nothing to lose!

      2) Because of Biden’s age, he is unlikely to crisscross the country campaigning in a non-pandemic election come 2024. He’ll probably resign in favor of Harris after the Democrats lose the House in 2024.

      Meanwhile, Pelosi has already promised that she will step down as Speaker after the midterm election of 2022. In other words, neither the president nor the Democratic leadership in Congress intends to stay in power after the 2022 midterms.

      Again, they have nothing to lose. They’re on a kamikaze mission, and they have no intention of surviving.

      1. I doubt the Republican controlled Senate would go along with national taxpayers bailing out blue states.

        Unless 2 or 3 could be convinced to go along in exchange for something else. Maybe uncapping SALT deductions in high income states?

        1. Chickens not yet hatched, and if that assumption rests on TARP Mitch and Susan Collins, I’m not sure Republican opposition is solid even if they win both seats in Georgia.

      2. “The Democrats already know they’ll lose control of the House in 2022”

        Do they?
        I don’t see why they would think they’d ever lose control of anything. If they can rig this election for the presidency without facing an uprising, they can do pretty much anything.

      3. The feds will pay for nothing. We are way underwater before COVID. Federal government will be heaving state debt onto its own.

        This is why it should not happen. States should borrow for their own spending. If they have balanced budget amendments, they probably have an escape clause for a supermajority, which should be leapable in this situation.

        If not, or no such clause (in which case your state are idiots) then the legislators, who wanted that power, better get down to work cutting. I.e. DOING THEIR JOB.

    2. That’s funny considering it’s the world’s like 5th biggest economy and subsidizes all these red state paradises you guys so love.

      1. The idea that states pay federal income taxes is stupid and factually incorrect. Any argument based on such a stupid, factually incorrect assumption is likewise stupid and factually incorrect.

        Federal income taxes are paid by individuals, and there isn’t any good reason why an individual in Utah or Nevada should be forced to bail out the foolish budget decisions made in Albany, Sacramento, or Springfield–especially when individuals in other states individual can’t even vote in California, Illinois, or New York.

        When you regurgitate stupid propaganda, it makes you look like a stupid puke.

        1. Because there are more individual taxpayers in California than Rhode Island, the individual taxpayers of Rhode Island should be forced to pay for California’s bullet train?!

          How fucking dumb do you have to be to not only believe that but regurgitate it in an argument like it’s persuasive? I bet your room is full of participation trophies, isn’t it.

      2. “That’s funny considering it’s the world’s like 5th biggest economy and subsidizes all these red state paradises you guys so love…”

        That would be funny if it weren’t so fucking idiotic.

      3. . . .except it doesn’t . . .other than in the weak minds of people looking for a way to excuse California from being so poorly governed . . .

      4. If it’s economy is so large as you say, then why would they need federal money at all? Just up the state taxes, I am sure the state with the highest number of billionaires won’t mind?

      5. Much of California’s income is from sales to all the states, as they have many such businesses. To presume it is some inherent California greatness misses a deep understanding. It’s like saying Wall Street and NY banking prove how great NY is because they’re so massive, when they just serve the whole country, if not the world.

        It’s a big stretch to conclude this giantness is a result of local state politics, rather than local state politics being parasites growing up around the success like a plague, then claiming their bloated bodies are the genitors of that success.

        1. Krayt, exactly.

          California has so much GPD in spite of their terrible governance, not because of it. Eventually they’ll succeed in killing their economy.

  6. Why no mention of the $1 trillion bailout for the states?

    The House Democrats’ $3.5 trillion stimulus bill is their #1 priority right now–and it includes $1 trillion for the states.

    Money is fungible. If the Democrats bail out the states to the tune of $1 trillion, California will get more than the cost of the bullet train by a long shot. There’s no need to fund California’s bullet train specifically. A bail out of the states will more than suffice.

    1. Fuck you, Ken.

      Should have run a better candidate.

      1. Fuck you.

        You should have voted for a better candidate–a candidate who was one of only two possible outcomes.


          1. You are not entitled to my income!

            1. Income, like legal voting, is white supremacy.

              What else you got, bigot?

              1. And time, apparently.

              2. If anything is white supremacy, it’s assuming that individuals of African ancestry are somehow incapable of making just as much income as white people–or any other racial group.

                1. You know he’s just fucking with you, right?

                  1. Yeah, he knows I’m yanking his chain, too.

                    1. 🙂


            Nobody’s suggesting otherwise; you got what you voted for and I’ll be more than happy to tell you constantly:
            ‘Told ya so!’

      2. P.S. Suderman should have addressed the bailout for the states as part of this regardless of who the Republicans I supposedly nominated.

  7. You can take a train for 4 hours or a plane for 85 minutes. Plane trip costs less and can go to/from airports not on the rail line.

    Only sensible argument for the train is it allows for a commute from 100 miles outside San Jose in a bearable amount of time. And if you live way out there, you can pay a fraction of the amount for housing.

    Most other pro-train arguments are religious or emotional or based on magical thinking. (Even if building it cost zero.)

    1. But we’d be more like Europe. Don’t you want to be more like Europe?
      I like passenger trains personally, but there is no good argument for them in the US. Passenger trains are more expensive, less flexible and slower than planes. And not really any more efficient, especially the high speed ones.
      Trains are great for moving freight long distances. And we have a really good system for that.

      1. Well, I wouldn’t mind Prague’s beer prices and quality, but other than that, not really.

        1. I’m not sure it will even be that cool to visit after this year’s insanity.

          1. Yeah, I imagine it’s quite the shitshow. I should text some of my buddies at the Institute of Cryptoanarchy and ask how things are in Prague. My friends in Berlin say it’s completely batshit there.

      2. Trains are great for freight. For passengers, they are good for commuting distances and a novelty for everything else.

    2. so wisely, California decided to start with that critical commuter rail corridor from some gas station north of LA to some cattle ranch in Modesto, thinking that building the section no one uses first would get momentum going to finish the project….

    3. The last time I looked into taking the train anywhere reasonably far – it was about 10 years ago – it was from St. Louis to DC for a friend’s wedding.

      Airfare for a non-stop to DC was about $220 round-trip, which took about 2 hours each way.

      Amtrak tickets were $330 EACH WAY, and with stops in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, the total travel time was 23 hours and 59 minutes.

      1. We found this out travelling through Europe. Planes were way cheaper, and faster, than airports. It’s a little closer, timewise, for medium trips because air has so much security. You can hop on a train for quick travel across a big city, or to another a hundred miles away. But the longer, the more stops, and it adds up.

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  9. A president-elect can’t do shit, even if he puts a sign that says “Office of the President-Elect” on his lectern.

  10. Man- no one has problems taking California’s federal tax dollars they put in but hot damn do they have a problem with California getting anything back for them.

    They’re a net donor yet I’m guessing half the people commenting here are from taker states. Keep being hypocrites.

    1. Ok, let’s cut out the middle man.

    2. This is what happens when collectivism infects all of your thinking.
      As someone pointed out above, California doesn’t pay federal taxes. Individuals do.
      And unless you are claiming that California’s financial stupidity is the reason why they are so prosperous, which is pretty absurd on its face, then there is no case to be made that the government of California deserves more federal money because people who live in CA pay more federal taxes.

      1. If they are paying more taxes, they are getting more services from the Federal government. They would have you think that paying taxes is mostly a complete waste of money or something. Isn’t is mostly Democrats who want higher taxes on higher income anyway? I don’t see what they would be complaining about.

    3. I would absolutely forego California’s tax dollars if every dumb idea that came out of there stopped infecting the country like a virus. Oh, and by the way, late breaking info, broheim, Calfornia isn’t a giver state… they pretty much break even now.

      1. And they will be way in the red if they get bailed out.

      2. The Rockefeller report breaks spending down to direct payments, grants, contracts and wages. Virginia is the largest recipient per capita because of the federal workforce.

    4. And further, those numbers, placed into a simple +/- column can be decieving. States like New Mexico have humungous amounts of federal/blm land, and on those lands often sit various federal operations– military bases etc. That tends to skew the numbers. It’s not like every normie in the state is getting a check on the backs off of Barbra Streisand.

      1. *checks off the back of Babs Streisand*

    5. California WAS a net donor state, until Gov. Tiresome shut down 40% of the state economy. And after the COVID-19 lockdown panic ends, they will be a net donor state again, but only until the state employee pension plan day of reckoning.

    6. “Man- no one has problems taking California’s federal tax dollars

      Why doesn’t this idiot understand that every individual pays federal taxes at the same rates–regardless of the state?

      In some states, they let people write off $10,000 in state taxes off their income taxes, but a) that means individuals in blue states are paying less to the federal government than individuals in red states and b) all individuals are still subject to the same rules regardless of state.

      I mean, it starts with the factually incorrect and stupid idea that states pay taxes, and his comments just keep getting dumber from there!

      1. “that every individual pays federal taxes at the same rates–regardless of the state?”
        That is true only in the sense that the tax tables are the same. But when one accounts that the deductability of CA property and local taxes are capped at $10K. The average tax rate on individuals in CA is higher.

        1. State taxes don’t go to the federal government.

          The claim was that California pays more in federal taxes than red states, and that claim is false.

          1) States don’t pay federal income taxes. Individuals do.

          2) Because Californians can deduct up to $10,000 from their federal tax bill, they’re actually paying less per person than individuals in red states with the same income.

          1. There’s the higher cost of living to consider, too, but that should not be a concern for other states or the Federal government anyway. California chose to pursue policies that resulted it’s current situation.

    7. How much of the “taking” is stuff like Medicare and social security for the older folks who cannot afford to live in CA any longer?

      And do you count the excessively generous IP protections we enact to protect CA?

    8. I didn’t ask for CAs federal tax dollars or anyone’s dollars at all. You did, and you take it by force.

    9. California is the top exporter of “batshit crazy.”

      The way I see it, your state owes me money to compensate for dealing with the noodle-brained arrogant insanity that hollywood infects the rest of the country with.

      The same state that once had Ronald Reagan as governor…what happened???

  11. Can we please not call it a “bullet” train? The Washington NBA team had to change their name back when they were called the Bullets. Now they’re the Wizards, which doesn’t offend anyone (except with their level of play.)

    And “high speed” rail isn’t exactly accurate either if they can only go 50 mph.

    1. When America has a system that can run like the shinkansen, then we can talk about bullet trains in the US

  12. I imagine they have plans for way more than this, that will cost double digit trillions and get us deeper in debt with nothing to show for it except American’s are poorer and we become the new Venezuelans.

    Fuck the left.

    1. Just wait until President AOC starts funding the tunnel for the train to Hawaii.

      1. she has a plan for renewable energy too…simply plug the male end of a surge protector into one of the surge protected plugs and then use the other open female plugs for appliances like refrigerators, beauty mirrors and electric marital aids. DUH. science is easy!

  13. Yes. Next question.

  14. If the train scam is defunded too soon, all of those Democrats who bought land in the right-of-way will lose their money.

    But consider the potentials for terrorism which are presented by all of those miles of track in the middle of nowhere, upon which a train runs which will take two miles to stop.

    1. Terrorists go after high population targets. There won’t be any passengers (if they even get it running) so they’d never bother with it.

      1. They’d probably bee too busy laughing at it to blow it up.

  15. This train is at 10’s of billion dollars boondoggle. That is unlikely ever to figure out how to get over the grapevine. Even a train that parallel US101 would make little sense, but a train through the central valley is criminally stupid.

  16. I really don’t see why Biden should make anyone pay for California’s bullet train. He could send the state a box of paddle balls instead and Californians would still obediently vote 2-1 for Democrats.

  17. The US is $28 trillion in debt, we just created $5 trillion out of thin air with anther $1-5 trillion to come. More budget deficits of multi-trillion dollars, some predictions the budget will exceed the GDP soon.
    Before the pandemic the net worth of the Federal government when future unfunded obligations were figured in was -$75 trillion (minus 75 trillion. In other words does it even matter? We are screwed either way. Party like it is 1928!

    1. Those unfunded figures are over 75 years. GDP over this time period is estimated to be 3,800 Trillion. So yes the unfunded is about 2% of anticipated GDP.

      1. Which, by the way, exposes the systemic defects in spending and borrowing. Borrowing is not tied to need, but to rather what politicians can get away with buying votes.

        As the world becomes more advanced, the need for big stuff decreases as quality of life is increasing. But in fact this progress means more tax dollars per capita, and whee we can spend more!

        The rest is rhetoric barfed out onto the populace for votes.

      2. So there will be hundreds of trillions of dollars politicians can borrow for more white elephants. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled.

  18. Passenger rail is a highly efficient conduit for transporting large quantities of taxpayer money through the pockets of consultants, contractors, and developers and then to crooked Democrat (sorry for the redundancy) politicians. There is no other fathomable explanation for Democrats’ fascination with it.

    1. Lookup the history of rail projects in America…public rail projects have been a glorified money laundering operation literally since the 1840’s.

  19. As mentioned in the two Biden quotes above, transportation is an excuse to create good, well-paying union jobs. Apparently, The Biden Administration will not deal with businesses that are open shop.

  20. Moneys for this project pales to what Calf subsidizes the USA…
    Red state ripoff!

  21. Someone has to pay for it. For crying out loud if it doesn’t go through hundreds of tourists will be deprived each summer from seeing the Central Valley.

  22. And we can’t reveal the results of other elections until this one is completely audited. Like a certain individual’s tax returns… CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAIL

  23. All aboard. Next stop Fresno.

  24. Why build a bullet train if covid is rushing in the Agenda 21 smart city gulags where travel is restricted?

  25. California WAS a net donor state, until Gov. Tiresome shut down 40% of the state economy. And after the COVID-19 lockdown panic ends, they will be a net donor state again, but only until the state employee pension plan day of reckoning.


    1. Bot doesn’t know that a state that takes in 14.8% of the income yet only pays 13.2% of the taxes isn’t a donor state. New Jersey on the other hand which takes in only 2.9% of the income pays 3.9% of the taxes can rightfully be considered a donor state. Clearly NJ needs more double Irish Dutch sandwiches or something.

  26. I’d wager that even as dumb as Californicans are, even they have figured out it’s a boondoggle going nowhere. Heck, the people who proposed it are now against it because it’s never going to be anything but a bullshit tax sink for ever how long they keep it on life support, probably forever. Of course the 12 riders who will use it regularly will love it.

    1. last year newsom SHOCKED all by cutting the route to be from Bakersfield to Merced, third and fourth tier bedroom communities of farms and tradesmen. Merced the closest town to Chowchilla…look it up, and is the gateway to Turlock, which the Grateful Dead thanked in their intro to Truckin’ on the Europe ’72 album. “of course by now i needn’t tell you that this next number rose straight to the top of the charts in Turlock, Calif. numero uno, stayed there for a week or two. they love us in Turlock, we love them for that”

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  28. i urge all to do a brief dive into the original routing and reasoning for the boondoggle we call the Bullet train. the brainiacs that love all things overpriced saw a way to get folks out of their evil internal combustion autos and onto a sleek eco-train. that was the story anyway. their ridership projections were based on hyper expensive gasoline and a near full railcars on all trips. the train was to go from san diego to san fran…sounds good, HUH? wellllll, along the way they realized that the various rights of way through spots like palo alto (where people with good lawyers live) were way to narrow for a high speed train. those routes got cut. then they realized that the state is criss-crossed by pipelines for water, gas and oil…apparently no one bothered to overlay those on the proposed routes. costs exploded accommodating them. then they realized that they needed to tunnel under some mountains on the way into LA from the central valley. DOH! apparently tunnels are spendy. who knew?! then the folks living near and at the spot where it comes to daylight realized that they didn’t want a few hundred homes razed for the routing…oops! then the leg heading to San Diego got some attention. yikes, nowhere to put it…let’s go BEHIND escondido…no one there. riders included. oh well, let’s pull SD and save a few bucks. the story is a tale of keystone cops, overpaid outside contract engineers, underskilled state engineers…and the current route for the shitpie is from bakersfield to merced and the operating budget presupposes a 95% capacity ridership for ALL trips. so let’s hope that that dope biden can be schmoozed by newsom…it will be the first of many times joe gets rolled by career politicians like himself

    1. You’re right on all points, but miss the point. There will be no shmoozing required, democrats will spend, spend, spend.

      Biden won’t even maintain a veneer of fiscal responsibility, like the present republicans.

      As long as the fed bank can print money and the government can borrow seemingly ‘ad infinitum’, money will flow into the pit of waste.

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