The Biden administration will award $6 billion to a pair of high-speed train projects in the west, marking the strongest federal support to date for a technology that has struggled to get off the ground in the U.S.
“The dream of American high-speed rail is about to become reality,” Ray LaHood, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and co-chair of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Coalition, said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the commitment of the Biden administration, our coalition members and many others who have worked hard to spark America’s high-speed rail revolution.”
President Joe Biden is set to formally announce the awards later this week, according to reports.
The $3.1 billion grant for the California project signals the strongest federal support for the project to date.
“California is delivering on the first 220-mph, electric high-speed rail project in the nation,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “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.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation will also give $3 billion to Brightline West’s planned bullet train to connect Los Angeles and Las Vegas, which has a price tag of $12 billion. The privately operated project, which had requested a $3.75 billion grant, is expected to tap equity and private-activity bonds to finance the remaining costs.
The 218-mile route is scheduled for completion in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who led Congressional efforts for the project, called the grant a “gamechanger” for the state’s tourism and transportation economies.
The Brightline West train is set to begin construction as soon as this year, according to the High Speed Rail Coalition.
“We’re ready to get to work,” Wes Edens, founder and chairman of Florida-based Brightline, said in a statement.
The grants are part of the 2021 Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program, which will provide $36 billion in advance appropriations through 2026. The competitive grants can be used to upgrade existing rail systems, including privately run lines. In November, the White House announced $16 billion in rail investments in the Northeast corridor.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized the California projectt, which has seen its cost rise to $128 billion from an initial estimate of $30 billion. The California High Speed Rail Authority, which is overseeing the project, said this year it would seek $8 billion in federal funds over the next five years to fund the 171-mile starter segment connecting Merced with Bakersfield.
The DOT grant will be used to continue work along the initial Central Valley segment, including the purchase of six electric trains for testing and use, officials said.
The DOT will also award $1 billion for a passenger rail route between Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia, according to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who posted the news Tuesday on X. The route will be part of the southeast corridor that will better connect North Carolina with Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the northeast corridor.
“The tide has turned for high-speed rail in America,” said Andy Kunz, president and CEO of U.S. High Speed Rail in a statement. “This investment by the Biden administration represents a milestone in advancing our progress and making us competitive with the 26 nations that currently have fast, clean and safe high-speed trains.”