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California Governor Newsom wants to invest in trains and transit with budget surplus. Your support is critical.

May 19, 2021

Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing $11 billion in new investments that will make California’s transportation network dramatically more rail-centered and sustainable over the next few years.

Under Newsom’s plan, the Central Valley segment of the state’s high-speed rail system will be fully funded. Several other key transportation projects will also be green-lighted. They include upgrades to LA’s transit system, grade separation of highway crossings, and initiatives to improve the walkability and bikeability of California’s cities.

Overall, the investments fit the model of an integrated transportation system with high-speed rail as its foundation.

Newsom’s version is just one of three budget proposals. Each chamber of the state legislature will also produce one. The state’s final budget is due by the end of June. It will emerge from compromises over the differences between them, and it might or might not include Newsom’s requests.  

It’s critical that you make your voice heard—today—in favor of Gov. Newsom’s $11 billion for high-speed rail, commuter rail and transit projects.

 

Spring Forward

The proposed investments are part of Newsom’s “May Revision” to his FY 2021–22 budget proposal. It comes in the wake of a $75 billion budget surplus in California. A summary by the governor’s office noted that the aim of the investments is to “move the state away from yesterday’s fossil fuel-based technologies to tomorrow’s cleaner transportation technologies, including zero-emission vehicles and the associated infrastructure."

Newsom’s plan calls for $4.2 billion to complete the first segment, in the Central Valley, of California’s high-speed rail system. Electrified, zero-emission trains from Merced to Bakersfield—running at 220 mph—will be operational by 2029.

Because California has a long-range vision for its transportation system, the proposal also calls for strategic investments that will make the state’s train and transit systems work in sync as an integrated network. That is, each element will link with and improve the others.

For example, the proposal calls for $1 billion of investments in transit projects in the Los Angeles area as it prepares to host the 2028 Olympics. Those upgrades are key because the region’s commuter-rail service, Metrolink, will integrate with the high-speed rail system—and with a high-speed line from Las Vegas to the LA region being planned by Brightline.

Metrolink is also key because it’s now experimenting with new technologies. In its “Climate Action Plan,” released in March, Metrolink cited 2028 as its goal for being a fully zero emissions railroad. One project to achieve that goal is a zero-emission train on an extension of its San Bernardino Line. When it begins running in 2024, it will be the first U.S. train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The Bay Area’s commuter-rail system, Caltrain, is also in the midst of a transformation that’s making it the gold standard for regional commuter systems in North America, with electrified trains that will run at 110 mph and depart every 15 minutes throughout the day.

Clear vision, big plans

All of which means that California’s high-speed rail system will soon be anchored in San Francisco and L.A. by world-class commuter-rail systems. The flows of ridership between commuter and high-speed trains will create a virtuous cycle of ridership, revenue, and expansion.  So the reach and usability of California’s whole transportation network will steadily improve.

That’s the power of investing in a long-range transportation vision: States can identify high-impact investments that have ripple-out effects across a whole network.

In addition to $4.2 billion in funding for high-speed rail, other key, proposed investments in Newsom’s May Revision include:

  • $1 billion for projects that “advance projects that increase the proportion of trips accomplished by walking and biking . .  . and benefit many types of users, especially in disadvantaged communities.”
  • $1 billion for transit and rail projects that improve connectivity between state and local/regional services.
  • $500 million for high-priority rail/highway grade separations and grade crossing improvements throughout the state.
  • $407 million to “demonstrate and purchase or lease state-of-the-art, clean bus and rail equipment and infrastructure that eliminate fossil fuel emissions and increase intercity rail and intercity bus frequencies.”  This could be focused on the Anaheim – Burbank segment.

One reason for the increasing energy behind rail projects is that California anticipates more federal funding for projects from the rail-friendly Biden administration. For example, officials expect the restoration of $929 million in funding clawed back by the Trump administration for the state’s high-speed rail system.

The prospect of more federal support has also inspired the leaders of several cities to renew their support for building the high-speed rail system. The mayors of Fresno and San Jose, for example, recently published an essay endorsing the project. Noting the crises of affordable housing, unemployment, and climate change in their region, they argued that “more than any other, one transformative project confronts this three-headed monster of challenges: high-speed rail.”

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