US grants $6bn to Californian high-speed rail schemes

Workers building California High Speed Rail Line’s Conejo Viaduct (Scott Waters/CHSRA)
The US Department of Transport has awarded grants worth a total of $6.1bn to two high-speed rail schemes in California.

The money was disbursed under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted by the Biden administration in November 2021.

One project is Brightline West’s proposed link between Las Vegas and southern California. This will get $3bn, roughly a quarter of its $12bn price tag. The developer will seek the remainder from private investments and bonds.

It was planned as a 270km line between a station site just south of the Vegas Strip and Apple Valley, but later extended to a 350km line thanks to a spur terminating at Rancho Cucamonga, allowing easier access to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

Brightline West is expected to break ground in 2026, with passenger service set to begin in 2030. Two prior attempts at starting work were postponed due to difficulties in securing sufficient bond financing.

The company had been lobbying the US government for federal funds, arguing that its projects would remove 3 million cars from the I-15 a year, cut some 400,000 tons of carbon emissions a year, and create 35,000 good-paying jobs. It also struck landmark agreements to ensure this project will be built and operated by unionised labour.

The second beneficiary will be California’s long-awaited line between Los Angeles and San Francisco via the Central Valley. This will get $3.1bn in federal funding, although this is a small contribution to its total costs, which the California High-Speed Rail Authority suggests will cost between $88bn and $128bn.

A 275km segment between Merced and Bakersfield in the centre of the line is expected to open around 2030. The southern California segment is currently under environmental review.

Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, commented: “California is delivering on the first 220mph, electric high-speed rail project in the nation. This show of support from the Biden–Harris Administration is a vote of confidence in today’s vision and comes at a critical turning point, providing the project new momentum.”

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