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California HSR at “critical juncture” as push for $4.2 billion heats up

May 06, 2022

A broad coalition of passenger-rail advocates are pushing the California State Assembly to approve $4.2 billion in funds for the state’s high-speed rail project. Though a recent poll showed strong support for the project, the push comes at "a critical juncture for either acheiving the project's full vision or leaving it in an expensive limbo," as the New York Times reported about the Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed line.

In a letter to California’s top legislative leaders, the U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition wrote that approving a $4.2 billion bond appropriation in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022-23 budget “will signal continued support by the State of California, giving the Biden Administration an incentive to provide significant federal investments for the project.”

HSRA joined a wide range of business groups and labor unions—and a bipartisan group of former U.S. Transportation Secretaries—in signing the letter. Read the full text here. California residents should contact their representatives here.

Release of the voter-approved $4.2 billion in Gov. Newsom’s budget has been delayed for several years. The delay is primarily due to lawmakers who voice support for connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco with HSR—in theory—but want to use the funding for projects in their own districts.

Newsom’s budget would invest the $4.2 billion getting true high-speed trains operating as soon as possible by coompleting a 170-mile segment of high-speed line in the Central Valley. That spine is key to creating the foundation and political will for connecting the Central Valley endpoints to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This simmering tension over how to invest the $4.2 billion is why the Times described the current moment as a critical juncture for HSR in California.

Even so, the project has made significant strides over the past several weeks. Most notably, the California High Speed Rail Authority got approval for its 2022 business plan, which outlines how it will make the first high-speed trains operational and achieve the ultimate goal of offering a single-seat ride from San Francisco to L.A. in 2 hours, 40 minutes.

And polling shows strong, continuing support for passenger-rail generally—and for California’s project specifically. A poll released in April showed that 56 percent of registered voters support the California project—“even if, as currently planned, its operations only extend from Bakersfield to Merced in the Central Valley by the year 2030 and to the Bay Area by the year 2033."

Those findings echo a Rail Passengers Association survey released in March. It found that 66 percent of respondents believed there should be a national plan for high-speed rail. Fifty-seven percent said they would use high-speed trains if they were available in their area, and 66 percent supported adding routes to the current passenger-rail network.