A massive dose of federal funding in the coming years could save California’s high-speed rail line. However, that injection has not been made available yet, and may never get congressional approval.
President Biden introduced his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan last week, and officials behind the high-speed line that will hopefully some day connect Sacramento, Calif., with Los Angeles are now more confident than ever that the troubled line will finally be completed.
The project, which is now expected to cost $100 billion, has been marred in delays and a funding crisis. The first segment now under construction, a 171-mile section between Merced and Bakersfield, has to rely on the state legislature to approve a request by the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to use $4.1 billion in bond money for completion. The move would take money away from other rail projects in the state.
Biden’s infrastructure plan mentions Amtrak and connecting new cities with rail service and funding, but it does not specifically name the high-speed rail project in California. The Federal Railroad Administration said it supported the project in February, and President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are in favor of putting a charge in high-speed rail transportation in the coming years.
But how much federal funding will be enough? The San Jose-to-Central Valley section calls for tunnel boring work through the Diablo Range and is already estimated to cost $13.6 billion. Constructing the line to Los Angeles will call for more tunnel work.
The ultimate worst-case scenario would be that the high-speed rail line receives zero money from Biden’s transportation plan, which still needs to be debated in both the House and Senate. If that is the case the Merced-Bakersfield line could still be complete, which would be critical to win public support for the project. Receiving some federal money, which seems to be the likely scenario, would still require the CHSRA to ask the voters for more via a tax increase.