For some reason, I’d thought that this particularly unpleasant chapter in California’s history of flushing money down the drain was behind us, but clearly, I was mistaken. Rising from the grave like a zombie on Halloween night, the California high-speed rail project, also known as the “bullet train” is back in the news thanks to President Joe Biden. After Donald Trump closed the federal funding spigot for the massively over-budget and blown deadline effort, interest in the new transportation line seemed to be waning, even in the Golden State. But the White House announced this week that a $929 million grant for the project that had been blocked by Trump was now going to be heading to Sacramento. Hey… don’t worry, taxpayers. I’m sure they’ll get it right this time. (Reuters)
The Biden administration late on Thursday restored a $929 million grant for California’s high-speed rail that former President Donald Trump revoked in 2019.
The parties, which also include the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the U.S. Transportation Department, agreed to restore the grant within three days, according to the settlement agreement.
Talks began in March, around two months after Biden became president, to settle a suit filed in 2019 after Trump had pulled funding for a high-speed train project in the state hobbled by extensive delays and rising costs. Trump had repeatedly clashed as president with California on a number of fronts.
Let’s take a short walk down memory lane here so we can see where this next pile of magical money will actually be going, shall we? When this idea was first pitched more than a decade ago, the rail line was supposed to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, with an option to extend it down to San Diego in the future. The initial budget projections put the cost at $33 billion and it was supposed to be completed by last year.
Fast forward to early 2019 when the wheels seemed to have fully come off. By that point, the total cost had ballooned to $77 billion, with estimates showing that the bill would continue to grow to $98 billion if they pressed on to try to even finish a portion of the line. The word “portion” is important here because, by that point, the line might have only reached from Merced to Bakersfield. That’s only a stretch of 164 miles out of the total 385 mile trip from L.A. to San Fran. That’s less than half, and how many people need to be traveling that particular route on a regular basis?
Without a single rail car moving one person so much as a few feet, even Gavin Newsom appeared to be abandoning most of the project in February of 2019. But now Joe Biden is going to open the spigots for another billion dollars? And he’s doing this in the name of combatting climate change, of course.
If you want to look at this from the standpoint of California’s pending legal action against the Trump administration for ending the grant, feel free. I’m sure Newsom would love to recoup some of the state’s losses, though it’s barely a drop in the total bucket of money that’s been flushed thus far. But let’s not pretend that this money is going to bring the monster back to life or have any impact on climate issues if it does. As I already reminded you, bringing the rail project back online was last estimated to require an additional 21 billion dollars. Where will California come up with the other $20 billion? And even if they somehow did, keep in mind that this is an electric train, supposedly far cleaner and “greener” than older oil-fired models. But wait… where does all of that electricity come from? Oh, that’s right. All but a trickle of it comes from burning natural gas and other fossil fuels, along with nuclear power, both of which Biden supposedly opposes.
I would call this a bad joke if there were anything even remotely funny about it. But the real joke is on the American taxpayer. Listen as closely as you like, but there really shouldn’t be anyone laughing about this.