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Trump Threatens To Cancel California's $929 Million High-Speed Rail Grant

A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is on display at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., in 2015. The Trump administration is planning to cancel a $929 million federal grant for the project.
Rich Pedroncelli
A full-scale mock-up of a high-speed train is on display at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., in 2015. The Trump administration is planning to cancel a $929 million federal grant for the project.

The Trump administration says it intends to cancel a $929 million federal grant for California's high-speed rail project. The administration also wants to reclaim another $2.5 billion in federal funds already spent by California on the project.

The Department of Transportation is accusing California officials of missing several deadlines tied to the $929 million appropriation for the state's high-speed rail line.

In a letter from the Federal Railroad Administration to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the federal officials say they will terminate the grant effective March 5.

The FRA letter adds that the agency is concerned that California is changing its original plan to "connect San Francisco in the north and Los Angeles and Anaheim in the south."

In his state of the state address last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, proposed to scale back the project and focus on completing a link in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Merced.

A day later, President Trump tweeted that California's high-speed rail project was a " 'green' disaster" and demanded that the state return billions of federal dollars.

"California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now," Trump said.

Newsom responded with his own tweet, saying, "Fake news. We're building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond. This is CA's money, allocated by Congress for this project. We're not giving it back. The train is leaving the station — better get on board! (Also, desperately searching for some wall $$??)"

In a statement Tuesday, Newsom said the Trump administration's threat "is clear political retribution" tied to California's involvement in a lawsuit challenging the president's emergency declaration to build a border wall.

Trump himself connected the two issues in a tweet Tuesday, "As I predicted, 16 states, led mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left, have filed a lawsuit in, of course, the 9th Circuit! California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!"

The cost of the original plan to build a high-speed link between San Francisco and Los Angeles is currently estimated at $77 billion, about twice the initial price tag.

As The Associated Press reports, the $929 million that Trump is threatening to cancel was approved by Congress nearly a decade ago. It is not clear how the administration can force California to return the $2.5 billion it has already spent, although the FRA letter says the agency "is exploring all available legal options."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Richard Gonzales
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.