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HSR Funding in Play and Two HSR Projects Advance
August 20, 2021 by Sean Jeans-Gail

Democratic leaders in Congress are signaling that they will try to use budget reconciliation as a vehicle to add dedicated funding for high-speed rail projects, which were largely ignored in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This funding could benefit high-speed rail projects in Texas and California, both of which reached key milestones this week.

High-Speed Rail in Play in the House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced to members that she will bring the House back into session next week, and will look to advance the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution simultaneously. While House leadership was largely locked out of the drafting process for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, reconciliation provides an opportunity for committee chairs to have a say; one potential beneficiary is high-speed rail.

“In reconciliation, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will work to remedy the largest flaws of the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill,” said House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “I intend to focus on programs that reduce carbon emissions from surface transportation, aviation and ports, restore transit funding, reconnect neighborhoods, robustly fund high-speed rail, and ensure climate-resilient and affordable investments in our crumbling wastewater infrastructure.”

If Chairman DeFazio is successful, there are two key high-speed rail projects that are better positioned to benefit than they were last week.

High-Speed Projects Advance

Texas Central’s Dallas - Houston project scored a key win this week after Texans Against High-Speed Rail and allied groups withdrew a lawsuit against the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is conducting a required review of the high-speed corridor. The group made the decision to withdraw its suit following a motion to dismiss filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in June. The DOJ successfully argued that the challenge was filed “in the wrong court and in an untimely manner.”

The FRA is “pleased that this project can continue on its path towards implementation,” an agency spokesperson told reporters yesterday. (Texans Against High Speed Rail did threaten to renew their suit at a later date. These kinds of lawsuit-happy individuals and groups are a key driver of costs and delays for rail projects in the U.S.)

Additionally, California’s High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) Board of Directors approved the Final Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Impact Statement for the 80-mile Bakersfield - Palmdale segment, a key milestone. This marks the first approved alignment in Los Angeles County, and would allow the project to access federal passenger rail funding.

“Today’s approval represents another major milestone for this project as we move the project into Los Angeles County,” said CAHSRA CEO Brian Kelly. “We appreciate the collaboration with our local and regional partners as we work to build a clean, electrified high-speed rail system that will connect our state for generations to come.”

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