The federal government has reached an agreement to restore nearly $1 billion in funding for California's troubled bullet train, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced.
The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized settlement negotiations to restore the money for the high-speed rail project that was revoked by the Trump administration in 2019, Newsom said.
The restoration of $929 million in grant funding "will continue to spur job creation, advance the project and move the state one step closer to getting trains running in California as soon as possible," Newsom said in a statement.
California voters in 2008 approved nearly $10 billion in bond money to build a high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco that was supposed to be running by 2020.
But the project was plagued by cost overruns and delays. Officials now hope to have trains running on a segment through the state's central valley agricultural region by 2029.
Critics have derided the segment as a "train to nowhere," but supporters say it's a necessary test and precursor to linking more populated areas.
The project's business plan anticipates environmental approval for the 500 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2023. Completion of the full line depends on funding and other unknowns.
Newsom last month unveiled a budget proposal that includes $4.2 billion for the project, including the bond money approved by voters in 2008.
Chattanooga's bullet train
A bullet train has also been proposed between Chattanooga and Atlanta and local, state and federal governments spent more than $16 million to conduct a decade-long study of the idea. The initial study released four years ago estimates a high-speed rail line linking Chattanooga and Atlanta could help handle projected air traffic growth at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport, which is the busiest in the world.
But the 2017 study projected a bullet train between the two cities would cost $8.8 billion and it isn't clear whether there would be sufficient usage of such a train to pay for such an investment and its operations.
President Biden is proposing a major boost in federal spending for passenger railroads in his infrastructure plan, which includes $80 billion for national and intercity rail over eight years, or $10 billion a year — five times the annual $2 billion in subsidies Amtrak gets. Biden's plan, adopted, would restore passenger rail service in Chattanooga with a new rail line between Chattanooga and Nashville.
Chattanooga bills itself as "Choo Choo city," but it hasn't had passenger rail service since 1970.
But nowhere in Biden's nearly 12,000-word plan are the words "high-speed rail."
Biden was a strong supporter of high-speed rail more than a decade ago when he was vice president in the Obama administration, equating it to the beginning of the interstate highway system. But even the chief advocates of those plans admit they failed to win support for the idea.
"The high speed rail program that Vice President Biden and our team proposed ended up being a pretty big disappointment," former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Politico. The most promising high-speed rail lines proposed in Tampa, Milwaukee, and from San Francisco to Los Angeles still do not exist more than a decade later.