Will California’s high-speed train project create more construction jobs?
By Jenny LescohierNovember 17, 2021
The infrastructure bill signed into law on Nov. 15 contains new funding for passenger rail service but is expected to offer only limited support for the nation’s bullet train ambitions, including California’s high-speed train which has been mired in financial challenges for years.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority claims the high-speed rail project has created more than 5,500 “good-paying” jobs since construction in the Central Valley began, with more than 35 construction sites active along the bullet train system’s first 119 miles.
California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said last spring he expects the amount of jobs created by the project to increase to somewhere between 1,700 to 2,000 over the next two years.
Despite the promise that comes with the new infrastructure legislation, it’s currently unknown how much support will be available for California’s high-speed train project. Some experts have estimated the voter-approved project might get about $4 billion in new funding.
At one point, there were hopes for a $100-billion national high-speed rail program - a goal backed by former secretaries of transportation, labor unions, major engineering firms and rail advocates. Those hopes were dashed by the bipartisan infrastructure bill which puts most of the money for rail systems into Amtrak’s service on the East Coast, various long-distance Amtrak routes and freight rail systems, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In fact, of the $66 billion for new rail funding, about $30 billion is designated for projects along the busy corridor linking Washington and New York, but there are no earmarks for California.
Meanwhile, the social and climate legislation, the Build Back Better bill (still pending in Congress), contains a $10-billion clause for high-speed rail projects.
Regardless, California’s rail system will have to compete for grants with other projects across the country, said Rick Harnish of the High Speed Rail Alliance. “The people with the best applications have the most opportunity to get the most money,” he was quoted.
The California high-speed train reportedly already has enough funding allocated to complete a section of track from Bakersfield to Merced by the end of this decade, but additional federal monies could go a long way toward funding future segments. The project will eventually connect Los Angeles with San Francisco.