U.S. shifts $624 million to California bullet train

The federal government Thursday redirected $624 million in economic stimulus funds from other states to the California high-speed rail project, bringing the total available for building the line to about $5.5 billion.

California was one of 11 states to share in the redistribution of $1.2 billion in high-speed rail money that had been approved for Ohio and Wisconsin.

When the recently elected Republican governors of the two states asked to use the funds for other proposals, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood denied the requests and shifted the money to high-speed rail projects in the other states. California’s share was the largest.


“This is yet another vote of confidence that California’s project is on the right track toward creating tens of thousands of jobs for our state and constructing the nation’s first true high-speed rail system,” said Roelof van Ark, chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Whether the money will actually be received is unclear. Concerned about a $1.3-trillion federal deficit, some Republicans in Congress want to pull back billions in stimulus money pledged to the project but not yet allocated.

A total of $3.18 billion in federal funding has been approved for the state’s bullet train proposal so far, the largest amount for any pending rail project in the nation. With matching state funds, the amount available for construction is about $5.5 billion, according to the authority.

Rail officials said the additional money could be used to extend the first segment of the line in the Central Valley to Merced or Bakersfield. Last week, the rail board approved construction of an initial 65 miles of track between Corcoran and Borden. The work is expected to begin in 2012.

Because the first segment does not link urban centers, some critics called the project “a train to nowhere.” High-speed rail officials have said, however, the line would be expanded to population centers as more funding became available.

With an estimated cost of at least $43 billion, the overall project would operate trains up to 220 mph along a 520-mile route between Anaheim and San Francisco. Extensions to San Diego and Sacramento would be built later.

Last month, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both California Democrats, sent a letter to LaHood requesting that federal funds be shifted to California from states that cancel their high-speed rail projects. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, made a similar request.

“This will help us push forward with high-speed rail, which is one part of a new, modern transportation system,” Feinstein said. “If California is to continue to be the economic dynamo it has been in the past, the ability to build the necessary infrastructure is vital.”