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H.R. 867: High Speed Rail Corridor Development Act of 2021


Is the logic behind Golden State’s rail line on the wrong train of thought?

Context

A high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, reaching speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, was approved in 2008. Intended to connect the second- and 13th-largest cities in the U.S., the 520-mile project was slated to cost $33 billion. It was greenlit after approval by 52.6 percent of California voters in a 2008 Election Day referendum.

That was then. The rail line was supposed to be fully operational by 2020. By 2021, it’s now running years behind schedule, tens of billions of dollars over budget, and has been shrunk to a plan to connect the medium-sized cities of Merced and Bakersfield instead.

Now, the rail line’s proponents are hoping for a potential bailout from President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats.

What the bills do

The High Speed Rail Corridor Development Act would fund $32 billion for high-speed rail projects, ostensibly across the country but primarily for California’s project. It was introduced in the House on February 5 as H.R. 867, by Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA16).

The Stop the High-Speed Money Pit Act would ban federal dollars from going to California’s high speed rail project. It was introduced in the House on March 1 as H.R. 1472, by Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA48).

What Democrats say

Democrats argue that high speed rail is one of the most environmentally conscious and consumer conscious forms of transportation.

“A modern infrastructure lays the foundation for a thriving economy,” Rep. Costa said in a press release. “California is leading the way by building state of the art, fast, electrified trains that will go 220 miles per hour. This will help get cars off the road and help clean California’s air. With new business investments and more than 5,000 new jobs created, we are already seeing the benefits of this project, and this is only the beginning. Now is the time to bring our transportation infrastructure into the 21st century.”

What Republicans say

Republicans counter that the project represents the epitome of inefficiency, waste, and ineptitude — and that’s primarily falling on taxpayers in just one state. Those same mistakes shouldn’t be inflicted on residents of the other 49.

“The California High Speed Rail Project is a failure. Costs have continued to rise, while people and businesses have lost their properties, and the sections of the high-speed rail that do exist are inoperable,” Rep. Steel said in a press release. “This is an unacceptable and an embarrassing waste of taxpayer dollars. California has had over a decade to get this project on track and has failed to do so.”

Odds of passage

Rep. Costa’s bill has attracted four cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Costa’s prior 2020 version attracted 10 Democratic cosponsors but never received a vote, despite Democrats controlling the chamber.

Rep. Steel’s bill has attracted 13 cosponsors, all Republicans. It also awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Last updated Apr 5, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Feb 5, 2021.


High Speed Rail Corridor Development Act of 2021

This bill revises and reauthorizes through FY2025 the high-speed rail corridor development competitive grant program of the Department of Transportation (DOT).

In awarding grants, the bill requires DOT to prioritize (1) projects that involve the purchase of electrified next generation passenger rail equipment, and (2) applications for projects that provide for a greater non-federal share of the cost of such projects.

DOT must also for each fiscal year set aside 50% of funds for projects with a federal share that does not exceed 50% of the project net capital cost.