Competitors for High-Speed Rail Grants

States all around the country see themselves as likely qualifying for HSR grants, but we’ll have to wait a few months to see which projects get funding

The economic stimulus bill included $8 billion for high-speed rail projects. Though Republicans continue to repeat the lie that the funding has already been earmarked for a maglev project between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the truth is that there are a large number of corridors around the country that are likely to apply for funds. Here are the projects whose sponsors have mentioned in the news as being interested in applying for the funds (no specific order here):

  • California High-Speed Rail Project – First phase of the project would connect Anaheim and San Francisco, via Los Angeles, Fresno, Bakersfield, and San Jose. The State Authority managing the project will ask for $2 billion of the funds to be used for construction before 2012, for grade separations, right-of-way purchase, construction grading, and electrification of lines between San Francisco and San Jose (for Caltrain, too) (Progressive Railroading).
  • Texas T-Bone Project – Project is less defined and funds would probably be used for engineering purposes; it would connect Dallas with San Antonio, via Austin, and Temple and Houston (Temple Daily).
  • Florida High-Speed Rail Project – Project connecting Orlando with Tampa and Miami was close to realization in early 2000s, but after failure on a referendum, group hasn’t met since 2005. First leg connecting Orlando Airport, downtown Orlando, Disney World, Lakeland, and Tampa would have cost $2 billion, construction could begin in 12 to 18 months, last three to four years, and provide trains running at 120 mph maximum (MSNBC).
  • Washington-Oregon Cascades CorridorVery limited Quite a bit of planning thus far for the corridor running from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia, via Portland and Seattle, but; states could be interested in asking for funds to upgrade and speed up the line (Cascadia Prospectus).
  • Southeast High-Speed Rail – Project, running from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, via Richmond and Raleigh, is more advanced than most others in this list, with environmental impact statements already completed; strong support from Virginia and North Carolina would mean that 110 mph trains could be running in 4 years with funds (News and Observer).
  • New York High-Speed Rail – $10 billion project would connect New York City with Buffalo, via Albany and Rochester. Project has not been planned, so funds would go to engineering and slight upgrades, like double tracking and sidings (Binghamton Press).
  • Midwest High-Speed Rail – First leg of the Midwest HSR project would connect Chicago to St. Louis, via downstate Illinois. Incremental improvements could increase speeds to around 100 mph; project might be aided by the fact that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is from Peoria, which is near the line (Pantagraph).
  • Michigan High-Speed Rail – The state of Michigan would like to improve existing rail between Detroit and Chicago; this project would not be true high-speed rail and would likely focus on small improvements to the line (Free Press).
  • Minnesota/Wisconsin High-Speed Rail – Project, which has received avid support from the governor of Wisconsin, would connect Chicago with Milwaukee and the Twin Cities; most of the funds would likely go to corridor enhancements, especially between Milwaukee and Chicago (Star Tribune).
  • Ohio 3C Corridor – State project would connect Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, a line that was deactivated years ago; this would not be true high-speed rail (Plain Dealer).
  • Pittsburgh Maglev Project: 54-mile project would cost a total of $3.75 billion and run from Pittsburgh’s airport to the city center and then to suburban Monroeville and Greensburg, PA; private project proponents claim that phase one between the airport and downtown could be completed in 2.5 years (WTAE-TV).
  • Las Vegas – Los Angeles Maglev – $12 billion project, which has received so much GOP criticism could begin first phase within 18 months and would be run by a private company. (Associated Press).

All of the projects listed above have been already considered by the federal government, either through its designated high-speed rail corridors program or its maglev demonstration program. All the projects listed above are in the running for some of the funds, though California’s project, which was recently partially funded by a $10 billion bond approved by the state’s voters, seems to be on the fast-track.

When the Department of Transportation delivers guidelines in March for how the high-speed rail funding should and can be spent, we’ll have a better idea of which projects will get money, though final decisions won’t be made until late May.

20 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Chris G

    I am not for the initially funded projects being one needing engineering still. The money will not create enough jobs if we’re just paying consultants and engineers.

    That said, I am happy to see all this money available and possible places for it.

    There is a letter circulating from the CEO of Amtrak saying he’s looking into the electrification of the line to Richmond. So I would assume the SE corridor gets some money.

    I hope sincerely that the line between Albany and Buffalo gets some help especially near Albany in the choke points.

    We know the midwest will get some. I’d like to see higher speeds, but incremental will work for now.

    And JUST SAY NO TO MAGLEV.

  • squirel

    What about the northeast corridor? is anyone from amtrak saying anything about upgrades?

  • Chris –
    I’d love to see that letter… where did you hear about it?

    squirel –
    The Northeast Corridor may get some of the money, but the difference is that for the most part, it’s owned by Amtrak, and it already got $1.3 billion in the stimulus bill… so it’s unclear right now whether the NEC will get money from Amtrak, the high-speed rail component, or both.

  • Nice all-inclusive list. The Texas “T-Bone” doesn’t get a lot of national press, but I think it’s got good high-speed potential.

    And let’s not forget: JUST SAY YES TO MAGLEV.

  • NikolasM

    Maglev and rail don’t play well together. HSR trunk lines that other slower rail can feed into is better.

  • Good point about maglev and rail not playing well together. We maglev fans would rather avoid the possibilities for schedule delays and accidents that mingling slow and fast trains will pose.

  • tim

    I think that the Texas project makes a lot of sense, linking metro areas with nearly 15 million people combined.

  • Jason

    It is not correct that the Cascades Corridor is behind in planning. The core of the system, from Seattle to Portland has very specific plans by the state of Washington. That segment is in a similar position planning-wise to the Virginia/North Carolina portions of the SE.

  • While the phrase “not true HSR” may be appropriate for Rapid Rail projects in Europe … there’s the legal language in the US that both Rapid Rail and bullet trains are forms of HSR, and in that context, “not true HSR” is likely to be confusing.

    There’s likely to be a mix of bullet train systems and Rapid Rail systems funded, if only for the reason that the Rapid Rail systems can complete more miles of route more rapidly, and so be able to promise services opening before the end of a possible second Obama term.

  • jon

    I actually hope the NEC doesnt get more than $1 billion. This HSR money should be about getting political support nationwide for HSR… the NEC already has some enhanced rail in place.

    I’d say the project that should get the most money should be California so that we can get a brand new full-fledged 220+ mph HSR system built (obviously more money is still needed for CA). Perhaps $3 billion here.

    Maybe $0.5 billion for the Cascades service which already has an improved rail service in place… just needs more improvements but $500 million would go a long way here since this is all an existing yet already somewhat improved freight track that is bordering on being a “semi-HSR line.”

    Say $1.5-2 billion for Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis, again this would be an improved freight track semi-HSR line so the money would go a long way here.

    Then the rest of the money I would make sure is spent or divided between projects in more “red states” or at least not the ultra Blue states where most of the designated corridors are located. Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Atlanta-Charlotte corridor, in particular. Otherwise this HSR money (and HSR in general) will clearly appear to be solely for Blue States. We really do not want HSR and rail to become a partisan issue and something seen as solely for democrats (eventhough they are the majority of urbanites). All I want to see is rail become a major travel mode in the US and that we get a true full-fledged HSR system built, I could honestly care less which projects get funded or if they are near me because I know that if we get a decent “starter” rail system to whet our appetite, Americans will demand more… just look at what happens as far as political support when light rail opens in a brand new city.

  • Herbf

    I suspect many with a modest interest in this subject will be shocked when a healthy slice of the high-speed dollars ends up going to the Pittsburgh maglev project. They’ve been working on it for at least 15 years. They have a route that’s been thoroughly vetted (no small achievement), they’ve done the environmental and engineering work, refined the German Transrapid maglev technology for American requirements and are far closer to actually closing the deal than any other maglev proposal in the country. Pittsburgh’s Maglev, Inc., which prefers to work out of the limelight, has had a Navy contract for some time to develop the extremely sophisticated technology required to make the guideways on which the maglev trains run. It also offers college-level courses in the technology. Many people who have only the most rudimentary understanding of maglev dismiss it out of hand, as a boondoggle. In fact, this is the future of transportation. The Chinese know that, as do the Japanese. The Germans, which have the most advanced maglev technology in the world, have effectively thrown in the towel and are selling it to China. If the U.S. doesn’t soon invest in and deploy maglev, it will be ensuring its eventual second-class status as an industrial power.

  • I agree with the sentiment that If the U.S. doesn’t soon invest in and deploy maglev, it will be ensuring its eventual second-class status as an industrial power.

    Having said that, the status of the Pittsburgh maglev project as being ready to take a healthy slice of the stimulus money is subject to interpretation. The Las Vegas and Baltimore-Washington projects have been working for 25 years and 19 years, respectively, to advance maglev for their corridors. The vetting of the Pittsburgh route in public meetings has resulted in severe alignment changes, such that the project has the slowest average travel speeds of any maglev project in the country. Other U.S. maglev projects are avoiding the Maglev Inc.-style sophisticated steel beams and are choosing to develop modular steel and hybrid steel-concrete beams instead, as are the Chinese clients and the German suppliers.

    I’d be shocked to see any maglev project — even the famous Las Vegas – Anaheim line — get a healthy slice of the stimulus money, given the competition from “incremental high-speed rail” projects such as five of the entries on the original list.

    The real positive aspects of the Pittsburgh project are its hilly terrain — which helps lead to twisty alignments even more so than public complaints — and its potential for severe winter weather. These factors have yet to be investigated in operational service to date, either in Germany or China.

  • Electrifying to Richmond is a pretty good use of money, especially if accompanied by track straightening. It’s essentially a first phase for SEHSR, in the sense that it reduces DC-to-North Carolina run time. It doesn’t really matter if the reduction is achieved by converting one section to HSR or slightly increasing speeds on the entire line.

  • Art Lewellan

    Amtrak Cascades Talgo high-speed trainsets ran on the Los Angeles — Las Vegas route for years and only stopped running recently. These type trains could be returned to service with track upgrades and continue north to Salt Lake City passing Utah’s Zion and other national parks.

    The Amtrak Pioneer from Portland to Salt Lake City hasn’t been a high-speed corridor but it could run these type trainsets with track upgrades. Amtrak’s California Zephyr leaves the Bay Area and arrives in Salt Lake City at 3:am. A 2nd train on the Zephyr would arrive in SLC at a more civilized hour. This is a lot of investment in practical rail lines.

    Maglev is indeed a pipedream that will not find practical implementation anywhere. The claim that ignoring Maglev will make the US as a 2nd class industrial status is nonsense.

  • What speed did the Talgo trainsets run from LA to LV at?

  • Art Lewellan

    Talgo trainsets with the right locomotive can achieve 135mph. 150mph is possible with computerized tilt-suspension coaches like Acela. Specially-made diesel/electric locomotives reach these speeds. I’m sure the LA-LV line wouldn’t exceed 80mph which is a legal limit and determined by track conditions. There is such a thing as overkill. Maglev and electrified 200+mph trains are overkill.

  • Mike Skehan

    I think Politica needs to do their homework when they characterize the Cascade HSR project as “Very limited planning thus far..”
    Fact is, Washington and Oregon have been planning and building towards HSR for nearly two decades, in spite of the last administrations best efforts to let Amtrak wither and die for lack of support.
    The Cascade corridor has an adopted plan, complete with numerous studies of cost and benefits over a wide range of scenerios.

    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/NR/rdonlyres/83B17378-CDC8-4D57-AA60-4CD64BAF6D94/0/AmtrakCascadesMidRangePlan.pdf

    Sources at WSDOT tell me they will apply for several hundred million dollars of the stimulus funding, which would go a very long way to completing option 3 of the Cascade Corridor Mid Range Plan.

    As Washington and Oregon State have been on the front lines of HSR since day one, and put their money where their mouth is, we are in very good position to capture nearly 1/2 Billion (no match $$) to increase the corridor ridership by double in just a few years, increase on-time performance from 65% to 97%, increase trains by 50%, increase speeds to 110 mph on certain segments, reduce carbon emissions from autos and planes, and increase fuel efficiency for riders choosing the train.

    Some will argue the virtues of maglev, or other 200+ mph technologies, but we have a plan, it’s a work in progress, and is only lacking funding. Here’s our chance to make it happen… now, not decades from now.

    A wise old transit planner once told me “a bus at the stop is worth two on the schedule”. Likewise, a good plan in place is worth several pipe dreams of maglev.

  • Not to push the UK angle too hard but I’d love to see the federal money go into dedicated ROW (built for higher speeds, say 150mph) in key medium-sized urban areas. Funding the trainsets would be ideally a part-privatized solution.

  • The LA – Las Vegas HSR isn’t for Maglev but the DesertXpress.

    http://www.desertxpress.com

    $3.5-3.8 billion for a run between Victorville, CA and Las Vegas on a dedicated double track high speed rail line. Would do the run from Victorville to Vegas in 1 hour and 30 minutes with a top speed of 150mph. There would be a potential to run the line into LA and San Berndo if funding could come up. For some odd reason though, there isn’t a stop in Barstow.

  • Seems unlikely the DesertXpress project will be vying for the stimulus money…their Web site says, “As a “for-profit” private passenger railroad, DesertXpress presents an opportunity for the private sector to demonstrate its ability to implement needed transportation without federal or state funding. Revenues from fares and advertising make the project financially feasible without public funds.”

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