Final Stimulus Bill Rewards HSR Massively; Falls Somewhere Between House and Senate on Transit

» Funding is a huge shoot-in-the-arm for rail projects nationwide; transit funding is weak, though, and operating costs are not subsidized here

House, Senate, and Final Versions of the Stimulus Bill
Program House Bill Senate Bill Final Bill
Grants to Amtrak $800 m $850 m $1.3 b
State Rail Grants $300 m $250 m 0
High-Speed Rail 0 $2 b $8 b
Total Rail $1.1 b $3.1 b $9.3 b
Transit Formula Funds $7.5 b $8.4 b $6.9 b
Fixed Guideway Modernization $2 b 0 $750 m
New Starts $2.5 b 0 $750 m
Discretionary Grants* 0 $5.5 b* $1.5 b*
Total Transit $12 b $8.4 + $5.5 b* $8.4 + $1.5 b*

* Discretionary grants would be distributed by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation to qualified “shovel-ready” transportation projects. Most of this money would probably go to highway and bridge projects, but some of the funds would likely go to transit and rail as well.


The U.S. Congress Conference Committee has agreed to the final provisions of the economic stimulus bill, which now moves back to the two chambers of Congress for final passage. The most important news is the massive amount of money proposed for high-speed rail – $8 billion – and the large increase in Amtrak funding, up to $1.3 billion from $800 and $850 million in the respective House and Senate bills. This represents the largest single expenditure on rail in United States history and promises a new day for train travel. The U.S. Department of Transportation will lead the distribution of these funds; most of the money is likely to go to existing programs such as California High-Speed Rail, Midwest High-Speed Rail, and Southeast High-Speed Rail. States will get no supplementary money for rail programs. The legislation says that some of the money can be used for standard-speed rail corridors, but that the Secretary of Transportation is to give priority “to projects that support the development of intercity high speed rail service.”

According to the AP, President Obama and Senator Reid pushed for the increase personally. This fits in directly with Mr. Obama’s statement yesterday about the benefits of high-speed rail and his repeated insistence during the campaign that he would push for better train service, especially in his native Midwest. It also may be a response to Mr. Obama’s seeming ignorance about the lack of money for infrastructure that Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) described at the beginning of the month.

Transit fared less well in the bill, though, receiving only the $8.4 billion the Senate had marked for it, as compared to the $12 billion proposed by the House. There are no specific funds for the New Start program or fixed guideway modernization. Even so, $8.4 billion addition to transit formula grants, which will go to maintenance and capital costs for existing systems, is an excellent boost for public transportation. $750 million of that amount will go to the New Start and Small Start programs, which finance major new lines, and $750 million will go to the fixed guideways program, which goes towards rehabilitating existing lines.

In addition, the House Appropriations Committee has announced that it will include $1.5 billion in the bill for competitive discretionary grants for transportation, some off which will go to transit.

Five senators (Harry Reid (D-NV), Max Baucus (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Daniel Inouye (D-HI)) and five congressmen (David Obey (D-WI), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), and David Camp (R-MI)) were involved directly in the negotiations, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME),  Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Arlen Specter (R-PA) also played a major role.

The bill, which is virtually assured passage, will likely be up for a vote in the House Friday and in the Senate on Monday, allowing President Obama to sign the bill that night.

Remember that, once in effect, the law will be tracked by the government for public consumption at Recovery.gov.

16 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Andrew

    This is better news than less funding, but still far short of good news. I hope to see much more HSR and transit funding quickly.

  • Kyle J Emge

    Although I think the public transit number should be higher, it isn’t too bad. The increased HSR spending is great and represents a change in direction. Although highway funding is still higher, the difference between rail and highway funding is much, much less than compared to normal transportation funding splits.

    Hopefully this is just the beginning of the way towards an Obama HSR nationwide system and a massive building project for public transportation.

    I was thinking it was all doom and gloom for a little while, but this bill does give me a boost of confidence for HSR and public transit funding for the near future.

    Kyle
    Boston

  • I think this is a good start. We all know $8 billion is chump change when it comes to other nation’s investment in high speed rail, but for us, this is a good start.

    Maybe think of this as a downpayment. (Though I’m sure that the Republicans will view this more than rail should ever get)

  • Alex

    whats in here for transportation enhancements (pedestrian/bike paths, etc)?

  • Alex –
    Unfortunately, there is nothing in the bill for such enhancements.

  • Norman Brown

    The transit funding in this formula is not “not too bad” it is a disaster. California is the perfect example. Voting for High Speed Rail is seen as some kind of political victory meanwhile back at the ranch, the Governor has zeroed out the transit operating budget. Other than to line the pockets of some contractors before the public realizes that these trains will cost to operate this legislation does nothing. Worse than nothing. For the most part it couldn’t possible fund anything but trains to nowhere that will be poorly utilized. Instead of building on links between active mass transit systems and the existing AMTRAK network we get an $8 Billion fantasy train that will suck out future resources from the existing systems. To what end? A nice marketing presentation?

  • Thanks for the great coverage on this, Yonah.

    The irony is that during the Republican years, the FTA was pretty insistent about not funding the construction of systems that the locals couldn’t afford to operate. It will be interesting to see analyses of whether the newly created construction jobs outweigh the laid-off drivers and transit employees — and how any of them will get to work.

  • Art Lewellan

    I’m glad high-speed rail projects get a boost, but I am not a supporter of electrification nor reaching speeds of 200+mph. Our real traffic problem isn’t intra-city, it’s inner-city where light rail systems have the most potential to address traffic and direct future growth and development. Light rail systems need the electricity more.

    Likewise, when speeds of 200mph are mandated in legislation, as is the case in California, high-speed rail lines pass by all cities but the largest. High-speed trains may reach 200mph, but their average speed is around 150mph, the top speed of some standard locomotives. If high-speed trains need only reach 150mph, their tracks can also handle some freight train service making the investment doubly productive.

    I’d like to see the Amtrak Pioneer route between Portland Oregon and Salt Lake City start up again, maybe go as far as Denver. I’d like to see the Los Angeles to Las Vegas high-speed line reopen, maybe also reaching Salt Lake City. Amtrak should increase the service on cross-country routes from one-a-day to two. This is basic track upgrading that benefits freight rail as well. Let’s get practical. Electrication should be for inner-city light rail. The rural, cross-country routes can remain standard locomotives.

  • Alex

    In response to my earlier question re transportation enhancements, I recently learned that 3% of the money for Surface Transportation is directed to TE, or about $850 million. Great news!

  • Justin Bur

    High-speed rail is for dense corridors in the 500-mile range where fast trains can effectively reduce short-haul air traffic and highway congestion, while improving convenience and connectivity (not to mention the positive environmental impacts). No one is proposing electrification and 200 mph for long-distance transcontinentals!

    There is no opposition between urban rail transit and intercity high-speed rail. The United States, which was once (1930s) the world leader in both categories, has a huge need and a vast unserved latent demand for both. We need to advance on both fronts.

  • Art Lewellan

    Justin Bar, I consider the California high-speed rail project a bit to far for its 200mph and electrification. I live in Portland and have taken the Amtrak Talgo high-speed train to Seattle, 150 miles north many times. It’s popular and competes with air travel very well even though its non-electrified top speed is only 80mph.

    Los Angeles desparately needs light rail expansion where the electricity would do the most good. San Diego should expand their light rail. Many small cities should electrify transit through high-density central districts. These considerations apply all across the country. Do we lavish funds on super-high speed electrified rail or direct electricity to densely populated areas? Shouldn’t we just improve cross country rail lines that benefit freight as well? Think about it.

  • BLambert

    Art, as has been pointed out on this website before, the California rail system is almost 1-to-1 comparable with the French TGV system. There’s a working real-world analogue to dispute with force your claims regarding system size and electrification.

  • Jerry

    I propose that ALL U.S. flags be flown upside down as the country is officially in distress.

    Bend over and kiss your a _ _ goodbye.

  • Art Lewellan

    Would someone please remove Jerry’s purposeless comment? Thank you.

    B Lambert. It is not enough to dismiss opinion bluntly. This is a matter for discussion. To make of yourself an indisputable authority is a mockery of democratic process.

    It is difficult to believe the California high-speed rail project has much in common with the French TGV lines other than technological similarity. The more important consideration is the land-use and development pattern similarity between Californian and French routes, which are likely few.

    I am not an opponent of the California project. Electrification amounts to 25% – 35% of the project cost. Track upgrades are the costly portion and will occur first. Non-electrified track does not rule out eventual electrification. Delaying said electrification can make the project affordable for its initial service operation with non-electric locomotives that achieve a top speed of 150mph.

    If B Lambert would care to discuss the absolute need for electrification, I am willing to consider a more thorough argument.

  • Bruce A. Wilson

    If you are against electrification, how do you propose to power the trains? Coal? Diesel? Wood?

  • Art Lewellan

    Bruce, are you serious? Coal and wood burning steam locomotives have been obsolete for decades. Diesel is the normal fuel and bio-diesel it’s likely substitute.

    As I said, most of the California high-speed rail route is rural where the environmental benefits of electrification are moot.

    Diesel-powered rail is more fuel efficient than driving, flying or Greyhound. Rail station areas offer a lot of development potential that need environmental remediation. Reno Nevada made an investment in the main RR line through town that will spur billions in development on abused and neglected lots that are now worth many times what they were before the rail upgrades.

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