California high speed rail CEO calls FRA plan to cancel and seek return of funds "unprecedented" and "harmful"

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California High Speed Rail Authority responded strongly on Monday to a Federal Railroad Administration intent to cancel funding and seek the return of federal grants, calling it “unwarranted, unprecedented, and harmful” to the state and nation.

Those were the words of Brian Kelly, CEO of the authority, in a statement accompanying the two letters in response to the FRA’s announced plan to cancel $929 million in funds and seek the return of another $2.6 billion in grants. [See “Will California have to return high speed rail money to feds?” Trains News Wire, Feb. 22, 2019.]

In a 10-page letter to Jamie Rennert, director of the Office of Program Delivery at the FRA, Kelly responded to each of the points laid out in the FRA notice. A separate letter to Administrator Ron Batory emphasized that “Governor Newsom is committed to building a transformative, visionary high speed rail project in full compliance with federal grant requirements.” Kelly also stated that the authority is “making progress” and has “met its commitments” in accord with the terms of the federal grants.

Kelly outlined the state’s commitment to completing a high speed rail link from downtown Bakersfield to Merced as an early operating segment. He warned that termination of federal funding would put at risk 2,600 jobs in the Central Valley and impact 488 small businesses that have worked on the project.

“It is hard to imagine how your agency — or the taxpayers — might benefit from partially constructed assets sitting stranded in the Central Valley of California,” Kelly wrote. “This infrastructure legacy would be a travesty forever.”

Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of policy for the Rail Passengers Association in Washington, told Trains News Wire that they hoped the U.S. Department of Transportation would approach California’s response “with an open mind.” But, he added, “It certainly seems like they had already made up their mind on which way the project was trending based on their initial letter.”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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