High-Speed Damage Control Begins

California High-speed Rail Authority assures feds that, despite the bogus headlines, the Governor did not cancel the project

SJ River Viaduct in North Fresno. Part of California's HSR project. Photo: CaHSRA
SJ River Viaduct in North Fresno. Part of California's HSR project. Photo: CaHSRA

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The California High-speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has written two letters to the feds to explain that, despite the erroneous headlines, Governor Gavin Newsom is not halting the state’s fast-rail project; heavy construction continues unabated, as seen in the lead image.

After Governor Gavin Newsom’s confusing speech on Feb. 12, followed by a raft of false headlines describing the project as “scrapped” or “abandoned,” Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) head Ronald Batory  informed the state on Feb. 19 that it was going to pull back $929 million that is has already allocated to the “cancelled” train.

From CHSRA CEO Brian Kelly’s letter, sent yesterday in response to Batory:

…any “clawback” of federal funds already expended on this project would be disastrous policy. It is hard to imagine how your agency—or the taxpayers—might benefit from partially constructed assets sitting stranded in the Central Valley of California. It is equally difficult to imagine the policy benefit of sending home the more than 2,600 craft workers, men and women who have been dispatched to work on the 119-mile segment now under construction in the Central Valley, one of the nation’s most economically distressed regions. Similarly, there is no benefit to sending “stop work” notices to the 488 small businesses, 15 of which are from outside of California, contracted to work on this project. This infrastructure legacy would forever be a travesty.

He also explained that:

…the Governor’s approach would expand the initial construction segment selected by the FRA in 2010 to maximize interim ridership and regional connectivity. This is achieved by extending the route to connect urban centers (Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield) and to provide important transit connectivity to the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) and Amtrak traveling to the Bay Area as well as Sacramento in the north and to bus services traveling from Bakersfield to Los Angeles in the south. A more detailed analysis and implementation plan is forthcoming in the Project Update Report we will submit to the California Legislature on May 1, 2019. The Governor’s proposal for high-speed rail’s early operations in the Valley would be tangible and transformative for Californians. Importantly, it would not require any additional funding from the federal government. In other words, under our current funding plan, the State, not the federal government, will bear the cost of expansion to downtown Bakersfield and to Merced.

He sent a longer letter to Jammie Rennert, also at the FRA, explaining in more detail how the Authority has complied with the requirements of the grant.

As we reported previously, and as Kelly touches on in his letter, there are already rail connections from the end of the Central Valley segment to San Jose, Oakland, and Sacramento via Amtrak’s existing services and the ACE commuter rail service. So, as was always the intention–and indeed, is the state’s legal obligation–the 170 mile Central Valley segment will be connected to the rest of California’s rail system and therefore useful in itself until the money can be found to finish dedicated high-speed tracks to San Francisco, Los Angeles and beyond.

In an accompanying statement for the media, Kelly wrote that he urged Batory to “…follow a more constructive path” by joining him in “restoring a functional relationship” between the two agencies. “Our mutual goal should be the successful delivery of America’s first truly high-speed rail service.”

What will happen next? The CAHSRA has now challenged the FRA’s proposal to pull back the grant. If the FRA doesn’t change its tune, the issue could end up in administrative hearings and, eventually, in court.

  • senator

    The sled would carry a car and its passengers…

  • senator

    Remember it takes 4 hours from home to destination if you fly

  • crazyvag

    Seems like horrible capacity. If spacing is 1 minute, that’s 60-100 passengers per hour?

  • Bradley Fried

    Because that is 100 year old technology. You’d be building a museum piece.

  • Bradley Fried

    The original bullet train line from Tokyo to Osaka was many times over budget and taxpayer subsidized. They still finished and the overage has paid off as an investment in economic benefits that continue to be delivered to the Japanese economy decades later.

  • Bradley Fried


  • Guy Ross

    Ab und an in jedem Metzger – sonnst nur in SB comments sections from smart asses und so….

    Yeah, I don’t get it either. I do know that in my once upon a time state of Wisconsin, the highway lobby was the highest spenders in Madison so your take jives with that.

  • Paul Gracey

    Some of the cost overruns compared to Europe and the government fiat construction in China come from the fact that this alignment is the first new passenger speed rail route laid out in California since about 1906 when the Southern Pacific finished its coastal route and had a more direct route SF to LA. than its previous spur south to La out of Mohave from its Transcontinental southern mainline to Texas.
    Los Angeles subsidized that spur at taxpayer expense to raise the profile of what was to become the second biggest market in California at the time the coast route was completed. Three new versions of the coastal automobile highway have been completed since that time along side much of that route, with costs per mile much greater now that SoCal population exceeds the Bay area by a lot. Rail lines originally built that success to be succeeded by oil finds in the region.
    But the HSR has from its beginning been a Christmas Tree, a gift paradise for both the housing developers wishing to expand their profits in a depressed property values of the Fresno, Salinas and Mohave regions, (hence the S shaped alignment) and the construction companies/union co-operatives that responded to become the “lowest bidder” so that all involved could pad their paychecks at government expense.

  • helloWorld

    it may be 100 year tech, but it’s still useful to extend the current shoddy network. need to fill in the gaps

  • HannahInManoa

    Not only would a Bakersfield to Barstow to San Bernadino conventional rail line be slow, it would be an extremely indirect way to get anywhere close to Los Angeles.

    A 125 MPH line through the Tehachapi Pass up into the high desert, and then the 220 MPH line to Palmdale and Burbank might make sense. However, unless the HSR is completed into the the San Fernando Valley, the existing bus service will be much faster.

  • HannahInManoa

    Best plan for financing the CA HSR project through a public-private partnership.


  • HannahInManoa

    I voted for Prop 3, but now my support for supplying water to agriculture depends on whether Kern Co. supports HSR. If they say FU to me, I say FU right back!

  • Guy Ross

    Basically the same conditions in the aforementioned stretch in Germany.

  • Michael Hsu

    Germany is not on a continental fault line. But really the cost is because CAHSR gets sued left and right for every decision.

  • MonadnockMan

    And since your proof is not stated; therefore, your comment is wasted bunkie!



Don’t Count High Speed Rail Out Yet

“High Speed Rail is Dead,” Aaron Renn announced earlier this week on New Geography. FRA regulations are a mess. The money’s been spread too thin. A couple governors torpedoed projects. And conventional speed lines of 110 mph are being sold as high speed. Those are all nails in the coffin of high speed rail, he argues. […]