Biden Invests $3 billion in California’s High Speed Rail

Project has already cost $11 billion with no tracks laid

December 7, 2023

President Joe Biden will pour more than $3 billion in taxpayer funds into California’s electric bullet train project that promises to one day link San Francisco and Los Angeles, and whose leaders have spent 15 years and $11.6 billion without laying any tracks.

The money will help buy six electric trains and bankroll construction and design of a train station and other facilities and projects along a 171-mile stretch of rail line in California’s central valley—far from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. So far this year the California bullet train project has also received nearly $230 million in U.S. taxpayer money through the 2021 federal infrastructure bill.

Biden’s fresh money infusion comes as the high speed rail project already has a projected $100 billion deficit after spending more than $11 billion. California Democrats and Republicans alike have blasted the enterprise as costly with little to show for the time and money spent so far. California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) has criticized the project as overly expensive and time-intensive and proposed a scale-back—an idea he later said was taken out of context by the media. 

"Only the Biden administration would look at a project that’s years behind schedule and tens of billions over budget and think 'that’s a good place to invest another $3 billion,’" said Republican assemblyman James Gallagher, the state assembly’s minority leader. "Taxpayers around the country should be outraged that this boondoggle is getting another dime of their hard-earned money."

The Biden administration did not comment on the grant specifics and whether the money comes with any accountability measures or conditions. A spokesman for the high speed rail agency said workers are making progress on infrastructure like viaducts that need to be in place before tracks can be laid.

This is the largest tranche of federal funding since its early days, when former president Barack Obama granted $3.5 billion to the project shortly after California voters in 2008 approved a high speed rail line connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco with the idea that it would cost $33 billion and be completed by 2020.

The high speed rail has been a source of tension in the state for years. Even leading Democrats have lost confidence in the project. In 2019, former president Donald Trump canceled nearly $1 billion of the federal funding granted by Obama—only to get sued by the state and forced into a settlement to release the money with new conditions.

The Democratic-majority legislature in 2021 balked at releasing the billions of state funds earmarked for the project after Newsom asked them to do so, stalling for more than a year. The lawmakers finally complied in 2022.

In 2018, the state auditor released a damning report on the project, saying its leaders weren’t doing enough to control expenses and that poor planning had added an extra $600 million in costs.