California and Florida high-speed rail projects were the biggest beneficiaries of more than $8 billion dollars in federal grants announced on Thursday.

California was awarded a total of $2.3 billion, while Florida received $1.25 billion, the White House said today.

The funds come from the economic stimulus package approved last year by Congress as part of the American recovery and Reinvestment Act. The spending and tax-cut bill was part of President Barack Obama’s proposal to help create jobs while also bolstering the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

“That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America,” Obama said in a statement announcing the awards.

Overall, 31 states received funds. The money will be used to lay the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high speed rail corridors in the U.S., the White House said.

California funds will contribute in part to an already existing plan for a 520-mile link between the Greater Los Angeles region and San Francisco by 2020. The second phase of the project, to be completed in 2026, would extend the system to Sacramento in the north and San Diego in the south.

The Florida funds will add 84 miles of new track connecting the cities of Tampa and Orlando, two of the top 20 U.S. metro areas, with a combined population of 10 million. A southern rail line to Miami, that will not use the federal funds from the Recovery Act, is scheduled for completion by 2017.

Among the other major awards are: $1.1 billion for a Chicago-St. Louis link; $810 million for a Madison-Milwaukee system; $590 million for a Seattle-Portland link; $520 million for a Raleigh-Charlotte link; and $400 million for a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati project.

On the Web:

See the the full list of awards here.