On high-speed rail, Newsom cuts deal to protect federal grant while lawsuit proceeds

Crews work in December 2017 on an elevated section of the high-speed rail project in Fresno.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he had reached an agreement with the Trump administration not to redirect funds from a high-speed rail grant while California’s lawsuit against the federal government proceeds.

California filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday challenging the federal government’s decision to terminate a $929-million grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for the state’s bullet train.

The state asked the court for a temporary restraining order to prevent funds from being obligated to another project while the suit was ongoing.

“California and the Trump administration came to an agreement overnight that the federal government will not immediately re-obligate the funds to another project elsewhere in the United States,” the governor’s office said in a statement, adding that the pact was filed in the Northern District of California on Wednesday morning.


Under the agreement, the Federal Railroad Administration, or FRA, “cannot re-obligate California’s funding to another state without first initiating a formal process, which ordinarily takes at least 4 months,” the governor’s statement said. “Importantly, California has preserved its ability to seek a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction should the FRA initiate the formal process with the intention of re-obligating our funding to a different project.”

On Tuesday, California filed a 20-page complaint in federal court effectively accusing the Trump administration of playing politics with its decision to withdraw the $929-million grant. California claims the decision contradicts federal regulations and makes faulty allegations about the project’s lack of progress.

The FRA has argued that Newsom, in his State of the State speech in February, substantially curtailed the scope of the rail project to focus on a Central Valley operating segment and pushed back to an indefinite date the original goal of a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco system. Federal officials say that scaled-backed plan violated the terms of the grant agreement, a claim California rejects.

In a speech Friday, President Trump criticized the revised rail project, saying it links one “tiny little town to another tiny little town for billions of dollars.”

Trump boasted that if he had his way, he would have helped launch an even faster bullet train to the state.

“And we also would have had it built on time,” Trump said. “And we also would have had it built on budget.”