Celebration in California As White House Awards $2.3B for High-Speed Rail

In California, the state's bid for a federal high-speed rail network with top speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour is often called the "only true" bullet train proposal on the table -- and the Obama administration agreed today, bestowing $2.34 billion on the Golden State to the delight of lawmakers and rail advocates.

20091026134234_Preferred_state_102209pm.jpgGraphic: CHSRC (click to enlarge)
The largest share of the state's high-speed rail award, $2.25 billion, will go towards an Anaheim-to-San Francisco link that is expected to cost about $42 billion to complete.

Smaller grants were given to improve service on the San Diego-Los Angeles Surfliner route, the Capitol Corridor route from Sacramento to the Bay Area, and to give trains new emissions control equipment.

The White House grant is less than half the size of the state's initial $4.7 billion allocation, but the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has the voter-approved ability to match the federal aid dollar for dollar.

U.S. High Speed Rail Association chief Andy Kunz praised the administration's decision to spread high-speed rail aid out among 13 different corridors, prodding states such as California to "get creative" and leverage other funding sources.

State are "all going to scramble, going to build their own money and support systems to get these things up and running," Kunz said in an interview.

Indeed, CHSRA chairman Curt Pringle hailed the funding decision, predicting that "it will benefit every single section of our planned high-speed rail system by moving this entire vision closer to reality."

California's case for White House rail money was also strengthened by bipartisan cooperation between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Democratic officials in Sacramento. Both sides of the aisle were elated at today's announcement.

The governor released a statement touting the upside of the state's shared approach. "California’s leaders came together to support and submit one high-speed rail proposal and because of that, $2.3 billion will now flow into the California economy," Schwarzenegger said.

State Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg (D) used the moment to rally residents around continued investment in rail. "Today the federal government showed confidence in the promise of this state," he said in a statement. "It is up to us to deliver on that promise."

Meanwhile, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) -- who joined Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) to craft California's first high-speed rail legislation 20 years ago -- called the funding announcement "a great first step for a program that I will continue to fight hard for in Congress in the months and years ahead."

Fighting for more funding will undoubtedly be key for California and other states facing budget crises even as they seek to build out inter-city rail networks in the coming years. Brian Stanke, executive director of the grassroots lobbying group Californians for High-Speed Rail, was already looking ahead to the next steps even as he hailed the state's victory. From his statement:

California is eligible for some of the $2.5 billion Congress appropriated last month for high speed rail, and we plan to lobby to convince the Administration to release these funds quickly. Congress also needs to ensure that the jobs bill under consideration includes several billion more for high speed rail in the near term. Additionally, we urge California’s Congressional delegation to ensure the next transportation bill is passed this year and that it includes a sustainable, long-term funding source for high speed rail projects.