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High-speed routes biggest winners in latest rail funding round

Valerie Yurk, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday announced $8.2 billion for 10 passenger rail projects across the country, including more than $6 billion for high-speed rail projects in California and Nevada.

The money, authorized by the 2021 infrastructure law, comes from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

As part of the announcement, an additional $34.5 million for planning and development of new passenger rail projects across the country, also authorized by the law, will come from the Corridor Identification and Development program.

Many Democrats in Congress had already unveiled the funding for various projects in their districts prior to the announcement, touting the jobs and reduced passenger vehicle emissions.

“Railroads made America a force in commerce and innovation in the world, uniting the country, building the most powerful economy ever in the history of the world. And over time, though, we fell behind,” President Joe Biden said in a Friday speech in Las Vegas. “At long last, we’re building the first high-speed rail project in our nation’s history.”

“The U.S. has lagged behind other nations when it comes to passenger rail,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a call with reporters prior to the announcement. “Any American who has traveled to other developed countries has likely seen how differently countries in places like Europe and East Asia approach passenger rail. … We’re now making the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created in the first place.”

 

The California Inaugural High-Speed Rail Service Project will receive the most funding at $3.1 billion, which includes phased funding agreements. The funds are expected to go toward the route from Merced to Bakersfield, Calif., which backers say will feature trains reaching speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, the White House infrastructure adviser, Mitch Landrieu, told reporters.

The project has drawn opposition from House Republicans, who included in their fiscal 2024 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments spending bill a provision that would block DOT from spending annual appropriations and infrastructure law funds on the project. The White House cited the provision in its statement opposing the bill.

“If you want to look in the dictionary, under the word ‘boondoggle,’ you would probably find the California high-speed rail project process,” Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said on the floor last week. “They’re gonna seek more and more federal funding for what used to be a $33 billion project and that will be a $128 billion project.”

The White House estimates the project servicing the segment from Merced to Bakersfield will cost a total of $33 billion, according to materials accompanying Friday’s announcement.

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