The Trump administration says it’s terminating a federal agreement with California’s high-speed rail project and taking away nearly $1 billion in funding, setting up yet another legal fight between California and Washington.
In a statement released Thursday, the Federal Railroad Administration says California has “repeatedly failed to comply” with the agreement and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”
It adds that the state has “abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding.” The statement also said the FRA was still exploring "all options" on getting $2.5 billion federal dollars it has already awarded for the project back from the state.
In a statement Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the termination “political retribution,” illegal, and “a direct assault on California.”
He would argue California has not abandoned its original high-speed rail vision, though cost hikes and delays have already led the state to scale the project — now estimated at $77.3 billion. But he did himself no favors in his February State of the State address, when he said that “right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”
Newsom has directed the California High-Speed Rail Authority to focus on getting trains running in the Central Valley. The state now wants to extend the 119 mile segment currently under construction from Madera to Bakersfield’s northern outskirts to a 171 mile segment from Merced to downtown Bakersfield.
Even without the $929 million in federal funding that the Trump administration now says it will “deobligate,” the High-Speed Rail Authority believes it will still have enough money to complete the expanded Central Valley segment — as long as revenues from California’s cap-and-trade auctions perform strongly.
The Trump administration’s move isn’t a surprise. Federal officials had already stopped cooperating with the state long before Newsom’s remarks.
Newsom struck a defiant tone in his statement Thursday.
“This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court,” he said.
See the Federal Railroad Administration's letter to the High Speed Rail Authority: