Don’t Look for the Next President to Rescue CA’s Bullet Train

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The Trump Administration is pulling financing from California’s high speed rail and those who can hardly wait for Trump to exit the White House see this as another policy a new president would reverse. I wouldn’t count on it.

The Trump Administration is cancelling an additional $929 million promised for the bullet train and the governor and others are fighting mad. Governor Newsom issued a statement that said, “The Trump administration’s action is illegal and a direct assault on California, our green infrastructure, and the thousands of Central Valley workers who are building this project.”

But the response from those opposed to the administration’s move ignore the fact that the high-speed rail has fallen well short of promises made to California taxpayers when the state bond to kick-off the train’s financing was on the ballot 20 years ago.

The federal train grant was terminated because the train has missed deadlines and not lived up to what the California Rail Authority pledged to the feds when seeking the grant. Some of those items are detailed in Susan Shelley’s column on the bullet train that also appears on this site today. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called the change of plans a “classic bait and switch.”

Would an administration not at war with California be more receptive to funding the train?

If a Democrat wins the White House in 2020 the pressure to fund the train on environmental grounds would be present. Yet, the deficiencies of the high-speed rail predictions on cost, ridership and travel time would be taken into account by a new administration.  

Obviously, a President Kamala Harris would be friendly to California requests for federal train money. Even a Vice-President Harris (sorry about raising that possibility, Kamala) would pressure the government for train money. But not all candidates would jump on the train.

A Democratic president’s administration would still look skeptically at the issues raised by the Federal Rail Administration including ineligible expenditures from the grants and questionable payments to consultants.

A new administration may not try to claw back the $2.5 billion already sent to California for the bullet train, as the Trump Administration is considering, but sending new money and thus endorsing the troubled project is another matter

Funding a project that has as miserable a track record as California’s high-speed rail over a two decade span is no way to start a new administration.

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