Trump Administration Moves to Take Back Billions Granted for Bullet Train

The California high-speed rail system's bridge over the San Joaquin River just north of Fresno -- part of a 119-mile route between Madera and near Bakersfield now under construction. (California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it plans to cancel $929 million awarded to California's high-speed rail project and that it wants the state to return an additional $2.5 billion that it has already spent.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announcement follows through on President Trump's threats to take back $3.5 billion that the federal government gave to California to build a bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In a letter to state officials, the department's Federal Rail Administration said the action was being taken because of a long series of missed deadline and the state's alleged failures to meet its share of funding commitments.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed a fight to keep the money and said the move was in response to California again suing the administration, this time over Trump's emergency declaration to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by," Newsom said in a statement. "This is California's money, and we are going to fight for it."

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It's the latest spat between the White House and California. Trump earlier in the day linked the emergency declaration lawsuit to the train, noting that California filed the challenge on behalf of 16 states.

"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 president tweeted.

The train project has faced repeated cost overruns and delays since California voters approved it in 2008. The Trump administration argued Tuesday that the state hasn't provided required matching dollars and can't complete certain construction work by a 2022 deadline.

Newsom declared in his first State of the State address last week that he planned to scale back the project and focus immediately on building about 160 miles of track in the San Joaquin Valley. His office said he still plans to complete the full line, although he said the current plan would cost too much and take too long.

He's pledged to continue environmental work on the full line, which is required to keep the federal money.

Congress nearly a decade ago approved the $929 million that Trump wants to cancel. The state has not started spending that money. But it has already spent the extra $2.5 billion that Trump now wants back. It's unclear if the federal government can demand that money back before the 2022 deadline.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it is "actively exploring every legal option" to get back the money.

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