Elections

Trump’s stance on high-speed rail clashes with House Republicans’

Workers fit a girder onto a support structure during construction by contractors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority of a new bridge in downtown Fresno, Calif., on Thursday, June 16, 2016.
Workers fit a girder onto a support structure during construction by contractors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority of a new bridge in downtown Fresno, Calif., on Thursday, June 16, 2016. Fresno Bee

High-speed rail potentially puts Republicans in the House of Representatives and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on different tracks.

While Republican lawmakers used a hearing Thursday to question high-speed rail projects like one underway in California, Trump has urged greater federal investment in fast trains. The divisions could further complicate life for a Trump administration.

“The California project, some have told me, is off the tracks,” Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, said Thursday, adding that “unfortunately, that project has been in turmoil from almost the beginning,”

Trump, meanwhile, has called for greater federal effort on high-speed rail.

“China and these other countries, they have super-speed trains. We have nothing,” Trump told The Guardian newspaper last year. “This country has nothing. We are like the Third World, but we will get it going and we will do it properly.”

Trump has backed, as well, eminent domain to secure private property for public works, calling it “absolutely . . . a necessity.” In California, its use for the high-speed rail line has angered property owners and GOP lawmakers, among others.

Trump has not made a specific proposal for high-speed rail, while Mica and other GOP critics of the California project maintain support for other spending on rail infrastructure. The transportation politics can quickly get complicated, and sorted out only on a case-by-case basis.

They have trains that go 300 mph. We have trains that go chug, chug, chug, and then they have to stop because the track splits.

Donald Trump, comparing U.S. and Chinese rail systems

Still, Mica’s skepticism, voiced at a hearing convened by a panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, echoes other Republicans who have challenged the project underway in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, California, and Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican who represents Turlock, California, and is a former chair of the House railroad subcommittee, have repeatedly sought to cut federal spending on what’s ultimately envisioned as a Los Angeles to San Francisco rail network with an estimated $64 billion price tag.

Construction began last year on the initial segment, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s latest plan calling for bullet trains connecting rural Kern County and Silicon Valley’s San Jose by 2025.

“Let’s end this project that continues to waste taxpayer dollars,” Denham said last year during debate over an amendment intended to restrict spending.

The Republican-controlled House also approved in 2012 and again two years later Denham’s amendments to cut off federal funds for the California project. In the 2014 vote, 221 Republicans voted to cut the money while only three supported the high-speed rail spending.

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At the same time, Denham emphasized during the 2014 House debate that, like Mica, he was a “big supporter of high-speed rail,” and he cited projects in Florida and Texas that are moving forward with private dollars.

“High-speed rail has a future in the United States,” Denham added in debate last year. “It just can’t be done as it is being done in California.”

A key question is setting the balance between public and private investment. Republican Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, who was reported Thursday to be Trump’s pick as a vice-presidential candidate, offered one option when he was said by a spokeswoman in 2012 to “be open to high speed rail as long as it is sustainable without ongoing state fiscal support,” according to news reports.

A 2009 stimulus package secured by the White House and congressional Democrats, before Congress switched hands, included $8 billion for high-speed rail. Congress, in a separate fiscal 2010 funding bill, kicked in an additional $2.5 billion. California has received more than $3.8 billion of the federal total.

“Congress rightfully recognized that for our country to have a strong and modern transportation system, we must continue to move beyond a dependence on motor vehicles and aviation; we must have more reliable, frequent and faster passenger rail service,” Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Sarah Feinberg told the House panel Thursday.

In a March campaign speech, Trump suggested this own support for investing in high-speed rail, citing, again, China’s experience.

“They have trains that go 300 mph,” Trump said. “We have trains that go chug, chug, chug, and then they have to stop because the track splits.”

The Portland, Maine, audience laughed, and Trump then praised the transportation infrastructure in other countries before moving on, leaving the specifics of his high-speed rail program for another day.

“There’s no book written on how to build high-speed rail in America,” said Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno, California, Democrat who supports the California project.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10

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