‘Highly Questionable Endeavor': Republicans Probe Biden’s Funding of California Bullet Train

The Biden administration has poured billions into a project that has no end date in sight

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
May 30, 2024

Republican lawmakers want to know why President Joe Biden is giving more than $3 billion in taxpayer funds to California’s beleaguered electric bullet train project, given that there’s no completion date in sight and the state has yet to finish a segment while estimated costs have nearly quadrupled.

"Despite evidence that continues to show that the California High Speed Rail project has critical issues indicating there is no reasonable path forward for successful completion of the project … the Biden administration continues to allocate substantial federal taxpayer dollars to this highly questionable endeavor," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rep. Sam Graves (R., Mo.) wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in their capacities as Republican heads of Congress’s transportation committees.

Cruz and Graves want Buttigieg to hand over documents showing how the Biden administration has evaluated the California bullet train’s funding requests. They also want to know if the transportation agency is holding the project accountable for concerns raised by the state watchdog and an independent review that question the transparency, planning, and feasibility of the project.

The high-speed train project, which California voters were told would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2020 at a total price tag of $33 billion, has become a political headache for Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) and a financial problem for the indebted state. Even Democratic state lawmakers have threatened to freeze funding. Biden, meanwhile, has been generous. Early on in his term, he restored nearly $1 billion to the project that had been pulled by former president Donald Trump.

Micah Flores, a spokesman for the high speed rail authority, said "[w]e are reviewing the letter and take this seriously," and "stand ready to respond" to the federal government. A Biden transportation agency spokesperson said high-speed rail "will revolutionize travel and expand economic opportunity here in America," and noted that California's project is "already employing thousands of people."

Cruz and Graves also want an in-person briefing on whether the Biden administration has vetted the project’s risks, evaluated whether it’s worth funding, and considered the billions of dollars that still need to be raised. California high-speed rail officials are currently trying to build a 171-mile stretch in the state’s agricultural central valley, which alone is projected to cost $35 billion.

So far, the project has laid 57 miles of preliminary track and built 45 structures. The high-speed rail agency often touts the fact it has created 13,000 construction jobs.

As recently as March, the project’s "peer review group" echoed growing skepticism about the endeavor.

"There has been progress, but 15 years after project inception, the state is still at the beginning of an immense and technically challenging megaproject impacting many common and often conflicting public and private interests," the group’s chair told state lawmakers. "The experience and progress so far should be weighed against the manifest challenges ahead."

Meanwhile, earlier this month San Francisco mayor London Breed announced that "thanks to advocacy" from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.), the Biden administration gave the city $3.4 billion to connect a regional train to a downtown hub that "eventually" will also include high-speed rail.