Midwest Leaders Suggest They Deserve $3.5 Billion for HSR

Governors join together to sign letter to DOT Secretary LaHood seeking funds for a Midwest network, defining priorities

Midwest High Speed Rail Network Map

The Governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as the Mayor of Chicago, have come together to sign a letter (PDF) suggesting their interest in working together to implement a regional rail network shooting out from a hub in the Windy City. The first phase of the network, indicated in the image above, would include routes to St. Louis, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; and Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan. These are lines that their respective states have discussed before as priorities for development, and Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin have already begun working on preliminary engineering on their respective lines. This is the first time, however, we’ve seen these routes framed in terms of the Midwest Regional Rail Network as a whole.

The letter is addressed to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to express support for the administration’s appropriation to the Midwest of some of the stimulus legislation’s $8 billion in approved funds for high-speed rail development. The letter suggests that the lines’ upgrading to speeds of 110 mph – which is the initial goal – could be completed between 2012 and 2014 and cost about $3.4 billon, the money needed from the federal government. If approved this amount would represent almost half of the overall funds.

The governors also suggested that they needed about $130 million to continue planning on an additional number of corridors in the region that might constitute phase 2 of a regional rail network. The letter cites specifically lines from Madison, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities in Minnesota; from Chicago to Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio; and from Chicago to Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio is working on its own project to connect Cleveland and Cincinnati, via Columbus.

Though I have my doubts about whether or not the Midwest deserves so much of the stimulus funds – California’s considerably more advanced project should receive $4 billion of the money alone – it’s surprising and relieving to see so much regional cooperation between states in prioritizing corridors and in working for a common objective. To see the Governor of Ohio suggest that the first phase of expenditures in the Midwest not include a project in his state is more than surprising, and suggests that planning for a national network does not have to be done by the federal government alone if states are willing and able to make accords with one another.

The Obama Administration is expected to lay out the criteria for high-speed rail funding from the stimulus bill in the upcoming week. We’ll see then whether these big ambitions in the Midwest will get any traction from Washington. The heated competition for these limited funds is making it clear that the $8 billion is simply not enough.

Image above: First phase of Midwest High Speed Rail project, from Governors’ letter

28 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Jason

    California is only more advanced in the sense that they are aiming higher. These corridors are further along in engineering. Much of this work was done before we were out of diapers.

    In my opinion, there are not more deserving intercity passenger rail investments in the country than these three corridors.

  • Kyle - Boston

    The funny part about the whole thing, is that the Detroit City Council just voted to use stimulus money (if received) to destroy the Michigan Central Depot and charge the owner for the rest of the costs.

    http://www.detnews.com/article/20090407/METRO/904070421/1409/METRO

    Although it has been neglected since ’88 and never completely finished, it is an amazing station and could be used as the new train station / museum / hotel / casino or whatever else the owner wants. This is the type of project that should have stimulus money flowing to it, in order to revitalize the station and the surrounding area, while Matty Moroun (owner) could put his money in as well; he has stated before that he wants to develop the building.

    With all of this, Detroit could keep a historic beaux-arts building, have a new train link and revitalize an area of Detroit. I know I’m getting crazy here with this idea, but they could even put in a light rail line as part of their new transportation plan, that would reach the depot.

    I just can’t believe someone would want to tear this historic building down, especially using stimulus money.

  • NikolasM

    As much as we want Detroit to revitalize, a line to Cleveland would be much more strategic for long term connections to the East coast and should get phase one consideration over the Detroit line.

  • Andy Lynch

    The Midwest is an area that gives you a high value for every dollar put into upgrading rail. The routes listed will make it more feasible that business travelers will find them viable options. Students will be able to go home on the weekend in decent time, or even Cubs fans will consider the trip to Milwaukee on the train instead of driving.

  • BLambert

    Whatever else it is, it’s bold, and only serves to underscore how much more investment needs to be made.

  • A line to Cleveland is also simpler from an engineering perspective, since the existing rail line is almost perfectly straight. However, at 341 miles, it’s out of medium-speed rail range, and Cleveland is smaller than Detroit.

  • NikolasM

    Cleveland at least has a shot of surviving as a going concern ;-).

  • Chris G

    Nikolas,
    As much as I personally want the line to Cleveland before Michigan as I live in NY, I would think because Amtrak actually owns part of the line the MI connection would be a better first move.

    Andy,
    Cubs fans taking the train to Milwaukee have to then deal with the fact that Miller Park is in the middle of no where.

    But you both make good arguments for the midwest getting a bunch of money.

    110 from Detroit to St Louis via Chicago would really increase the usability of the train.

  • Patrick M

    As far as I understand, the Midwest project has no EIS under development. Is that correct?

    I state this because if we want to talk about who is the furthest along in developing a 110-mph project, I thought NC/VA have everybody beat by a country mile.

    The EIS for the Southeast High Speed Rail corridor is scheduled to be done later this year, and the completion date was moved forward from 2010 to 2009 just a few weeks ago, which means they truly believe they can do it.

    Midwesterners, am I wrong? I don’t want to mishcaracterize your good efforts if I have missed an EIS process on any of the MWHSR corridors.

  • BLambert

    For those wanting Cleveland vice Detroit, the corridor to Cleveland has not been finalized, whereas the corridor to Detroit has.

  • NikolasM

    Heck, we could probably get the Canadians to pony up for the Detroit-South Bend piece as it would hook in nicely to whatever they hopefully have planned on a Quebec City-Windsor route. I am sure Toronto would love to be connected to Chicago by HSR.

  • Woody

    It all fits together, so it almost doesn’t matter which piece comes first.

    Detroit-Chicago makes good sense. Amtrak actually owns about a third of the route and has been steadily investing to get it ready for 110 mph service. Norfolk has been looking to get rid of the section between Battle Creek and Detroit. Maybe in these hard times Amtrak can guy that part too.

    And I saw the head of Amtrak once explain that these cities are the two largest, closest metropolitan areas without good rail service — bigger and closer than L.A.-S.F. or Houston-Dallas. Of course, Chicago has great connectivity, with well-developed transit network. And Detroit’s plans for a Woodward Avenue transit line revival would get a huge boost from a busy train station.

    One of the bottlenecks for the conventional trains is getting out of Chicago heading east. Fixing this to speed up service to Detroit will be costly, but all the trains to Cleveland (and NYC) would also benefit by that same 20 or 30 minute reduction in the timetable.

    One advantage or disadvantage of Detroit-Chicago corridor is that it is dense with intermediate stops: Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Albion, Battle Creek, Niles/South Bend, Gary — and I’m leaving out a few smaller ones. Will the enhanced service make ALL these local stops? Or will there be a non-stop express alternative as well?

    My forecast is that the planners will wildly underestimate the potential passenger count. The route could support hourly schedules, or even half-hourly in a mix of express and local service. But they will not order enough rain cars to meet demand.

    The other routes look good too. The State of Illinois has been supporting better service to St. Louis for a long time and has earned a nice payback. Likewise the route to Milwaukee has been supported and upgraded over the years and deserves federal help to reach the next level.

    I also expect to see D.C.-Richmond and North Carolina to get serious money. They are shovel-ready.

    California? I’d put more money into Sacramento-Bay Area-San Jose and hold my horses on HSR.

  • orulz

    Patrick M,

    An EIS covering at least some of the improvements between Chicago and St. Louis is already done. Read it here.

    Some of the other upgrades in IL, IN, MI, and WI could probably done through an EIR and a FONSI. Michigan in particular, since there are already 90+mph trains out there.

  • oulz

    OK so that link to the EIS is only the cover page, you have to send off for a CD-ROM to get the full EIS.

  • Jason

    Why Chicago to Detroit is better than Chicago to Cleveland for phase I:

    -Chi/Det has many significant intermediate metros (Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Jackson, & Ann Arbor), Chi/Cle has two (Fort Wayne % Toledo).
    -The is existing service on good tracks, some of which Amtrak already owns. The planned Chi/Cle route is not currently used by Amtrak and is partially abandoned. The alternative route is a heavily congested freight mainline.
    -The Detroit metro area is much larger than Cleveland. Any thought that Detroit is going evaporate is fueled by ignorance of the region.
    -Although the state of Michigan and Amtrak don’t seem to be aware of it, this line could and should connect to Ontario HSR.

    The work that is planned in the Midwest at this point has been engineered decades ago. There is no new ROW or service, just new track and signaling…no need for an EIS. An EIS will likely be needed to fix the bottleneck that Woody describes. Hopefully that detailed study gets funded ASAP.

    In the SE, I believe there has been a bit of over-studying in order to block critics, but some sections are planned to be on new ROW. Remember that the SEHSR is going to create a rail service that never existed in history…These 3 lines of the MWRRI are basically small improvements over past rail services:

    -Detroit: Michigan Central
    -Saint Louis: Alton
    -Milwaukee: The Milwaukee Road

    Some of the other MWRRI lines (such as Indy/Cincy or Cleveland) are cobbled together from traditionally non-contiguous lines in order to serve the population centers and avoid heavy freight traffic…just like SEHSR. This fact makes them more difficult to implement

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Are we calling 110MPH “high speed” now?

  • David Galvan

    These lines look great, but I wanted to defend CA a bit here. It is currently the only HSR system that actually has its own funding already (prop 1A passed last november), and the only one that plans to deliver max speeds of 220 mph (averages hopefully ~180 mph). The midwest upgrade from 79 mph to 110 mph is an incremental improvement, and definitely should be done, but implying that we should “hold are horses” on CA’s system is the wrong outlook, I think. Other countries have systems with 200+ mph trains. You need those type of speeds to really be competitive with automobile or airplane transportation. Incrementally upgrading our current system to 110 mph trains really only raises their average speed by a few tens of mph, and most potential customers will probably see this as not worth the cost.

    Incrementally improving our rail lines is good and all, but this country really needs a quantum leap in what we are capable of delivering in terms of train transit times. The CA system has been planned for over a decade, is the only one that can deliver European-style HSR, and already has 1/3 of the funding it needs. It definitely should be prioritized.

    But I echo the sentiment of the OP. $8B is not enough, and I predict that the competition for funding for this stimulus money will encourage Congress to boost the funding for rail in the big transportation renewal bill that will be passed later this year (Fall, I think?).

  • Jason

    I agree with you David. I didn’t mean to disparage CA’s efforts.

    I just meant to point out that these three corridors are the quickest bang for the buck in the country.

  • Woody

    “Are we calling 110MPH “high speed” now?”

    Yes, if “we” are the United States Government in all its majesty. So we citizens will probably have to get used to that usage for the next 10 or 20 years.

    I don’t think the feds put it this way, but I will. They want to do better passenger rail cheap, and incrementally.

    And that makes sense. Nobody is ready to spend hundreds of billions on HSR yet. When Obama picked up on the Congressionally authorized study suggested $8 billion a year, the traditional media acted like the figure was immense. We are likely to be dealing with about $8 billion a year total, nationwide, for quite a few years to come.

    So I hope that the California High Speed Rail effort can get on board and try to do it cheap, and incrementally.

    Otherwise it risks being the Second Avenue Subway of the Golden West. It does not have the money lined up to get built to completion — my hunch is that will be more like $50 billion than the $40 billion figure we see — and I’d hate to see it become a symbol of what cannot be done.

    I hope CHSR can find a way to build in stages. Buy the needed right of way now, while land is selling for depression prices. Next build the new tracks dedicated to passenger-only service. Connect those new tracks to the existing big city terminals and start running conventional trains at up to 110 mph, much faster than the current service. Later add the electric catenaries and use electric-powered locomotives to haul the conventional trains, thereby shaving another bit of time from the schedule. Last, buy the advanced trains for true high-speed travel.

    Otherwise, the trainsets alone will run a few billion, out of a budget that is already short $10 or $20 or $30 billion. And watch out. You will pay more for buying only a small number at a time. Better to wait until the California order can be joined with orders for true HSR in the Midwest and perhaps the soon-to-be-needed replacements for the Acela cars. Remember a lesson from the Acelas: Buying a few customized, almost unique units is a good way to get some lemons.

    I know I’m breaking hearts — or tempers — by posting this proposal for a delayed rollout of HSR in Cali. But what can I say.

  • David Galvan

    We don’t need to program in a delay into CA-HSR’s rollout. I’m sure there will be delays in it that are due to unexpected circumstances anyway. Besides, we’ve delayed true HSR deployment in this country long enough already.

    Building a true 200 mph+ regional HSR system in this country is not technically unfeasible. It just requires political will and a major investment. Japan did it. France did it. Germany did it. Spain did it. China has done some and is doing more (their stimulus package has $80B JUST for HSR! Granted they don’t have to go into debt to finance it, but it at least shows that they see it as a real priority.) We can do it here too. But we need to change Americans’ views about train travel to get the political support going for this. We’ve already got the ball rolling thanks to change.gov and Obama, now it’s time to push it a little harder.

    My fear about all this “just be patient and do it incrementally” talk is that I just don’t see it paying off. How long has Acela been operating, almost 10 years now? Has it changed the country’s view of passenger rail? No. People still see trains as too slow, and the cost difference between Acela and regular Amtrak is probably seen as not worth the time savings. Anecdotally: my friend just got back from visiting home in the Northeast. He and his family took a train from Boston to NYC. It was not Acela. They looked at Acela, but realized that Acela would only get them to Penn Station in 3.5 hours vs. 4 hrs 10 min on the Northeast Regional, and Acela was $93 pp, while regular was $62. They weighed the decision, and figured it wasn’t worth an extra $30 for a saved 40 minutes out of 4 hours.

    Acela gets you from D.C. to Boston in 6 hours 40 min. Just one hour faster than the regular Amtrak service. But the regular service is $90, and the Acela service is $150. The cost of a plane flight between the two cities? About $134 including taxes/fees, and you’re there in an hour and a half (make it 3 hours total if you include getting to the airport/checkin/security etc.) How can Acela compete? It’s too expensive with not enough time savings to compete with regular rail, and it’s more expensive and at least twice the trip time as a plane flight.

    Now I’m not saying Acela isn’t great under certain circumstances, but I don’t think that incremental step of speeding up train service along that route has done much to convince people we should invest in HSR. And if we delay true HSR (like CAHSR) for the sake of having more Acelas across the nation, I fear we’ll get the same result we had before the election: people just don’t see trains as a viable high-speed regional travel option, and it will be even more decades before the political opportunity comes around again for a major HSR investment.

    Phase 1 of CA-HSR is just from anaheim to S.F. That’s the one that is expected to cost $30 B – $40 B. We’ve got $10B already, we’ll likely get $2-$4B from the feds JUST FROM THE STIMULUS PACKAGE. We may potentially get more from the national transportation bill that will go through Congress later this year. Once we get the $20B in state + fed money, the private investors will see it as a sure thing and start putting in the remaining $10B or so. But even if they don’t right away, we’ll be able to start building track and testing trains, and the privates will come along when news about the fast trains starts spreading.

    I recognize that the midwest and california are in vastly different situations here. The midwest has an existing efficient inter-city train system that cannot be upgraded to 200mph+, and so it makes sense to incrementally increase speed there. But CA has no real train service between L.A. and S.F. (a big chunk of time is spent on a bus, and the whole trip takes something like 15 hours). Building new tracks would be required, and we might as well go all in.

    We need to demonstrate that true HSR can work here in the U.S.. That is the best thing we can do to get public opinion (and, thus, congress) to open the floodgates and invest $ in more HSR systems. CA is our best chance for that at the moment.

  • Woody

    Likewise in the MidWest. They can improve the tracks enough to run the EXISTING fleet at speeds up to 110 mph. With luck, they will be able to use the same cars to make more runs per day and not need any more trainsets. If not, they are in a jam, because Amtrak has a dire shortage of passenger cars and locomotives.

    I think they can buy locomotives off the dealer’s lot, so to speak. but to get another 100 conventional passenger cars — and I think they could use another 1,000 at least — would require an Act of Congress, and an Appropriation of many billions of dollars. Nobody is getting ready to do anything like that, as far as I can see.

    So if they can cut Chicago-St. Louis from five and a half hours down to four hours going 110 mph tops, they can use the same trainset for an added morning run and a late afternoon trip. No need to buy dozens of new cars to increase service. Cheap and incremental.

    Gnashing of teeth that this is not true HSR and will not knock the planes from the sky. Maybe not, maybe. For sure the trains will be full.

    A couple of years back the State of Illinois proved that there’s great pent-up demand for intercity passenger rail even at disappointing speeds. When the frequency on that Chicago-St. Louis route went from three trains a day to five, the new trains were promptly filled.

    With only five trains a day, departures are a few hours apart, at 7 a.m., 9:30, 1:45, 5, and 7 p.m . One of those is a long distance train heading on to Texas. But if the schedule is cut to four hours, and ample trackage for passing slow freights is available, couldn’t we see the same equipment providing departures at, say, 7 a.m., 9, 11, 1:45, 4, 6, and 8 p.m.?

    Again, this schedule would not cause empty planes to fall from the sky, but these trains would all be full.

    I wish we had half as much talk about ordering another 1,000 passenger cars for Amtrak as we do about true HSR. If we could get the cars ordered this year and delivered starting next year, we could soon be looking at Chicago-St. Louis departures at 6 a.m, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 noon, 1, 1:45, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11:45 p.m. (I want to double service on all existing Amtrak routes, like the Texas Eagle, so I stuck in that midnight ride.) All those trains would also be full.

    Once we see hourly service with full trains between major city pairs like Chicago and St. Louis, it will then be easy to get money from the politicians to speed up the service to 200 mph. Until then, not so much. And meanwhile we need to order a thousand passenger cars to expand Amtrak’s service wherever possible.

  • BLambert

    Woody and David are having an interesting conversation, so I think I’ll bring up a few related points, and have a bit of commentary myself…

    If I’m not mistaken, upgrades to 110mph on existing lines are upgrades to freight lines as well, which means that rail freight moves more quickly and reliably, which reduces tractor-trailers on highways (with the attendant reduction in petroleum usage and highway degradation), which is a good thing.

    The ARRA and projected DoT funding aren’t the only potential sources of revenue; Senator Kerry’s High Speed Rail for America Act (currently in committee, apparently) provides for a few hundred million in grants and around $20 billion in various bonds to build high-speed rail (under the current DoT definition of HSR) and attendant facilities over the next few years.

    In the case of CA’s HSR program, there’s the potential of feeding improvements in HSR to non-HSR routes. Once high-speed rail happens in CA’s central valley, the trainsets used on the existing San Joaquins route will likely become superfluous, and can be moved to currently under- or unserved routes.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that new trainsets aren’t needed, even after Amtrak finishes refurbishing those in its existing inventory.

    I also would like to see some non-HSR routes receive funding, either from ARRA or from upcoming appropriations bills (the IL Fast Track routes would be good for this); although I’d love HSR everywhere, it’s unrealistic to expect that, even two decades from now. However, there are a number of communities that have no rail service at all, and that needs to change.

    In a bit of a diversion from the original topic, I’d also like to see a serious discussion of rail user fees as a sustainable funding mechanism for rail improvements (my rough figures on a $2 per Amtrak and $.10 per trip per day per passenger on commuter rail come out to about $150 million; which given the enormity of what needs to be done is minscule, but I feel that it’s important to get a funding mechanism in place early, and growth in the system will increase the revenue stream as time goes on).

  • David Galvan

    Well, here’s the strategic plan for U.S. High Speed Rail, just announced today. (Haven’t read it yet) Have at it:

    http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/31

  • Woody

    You’re gonna get your heart broken.

    The voters authorized $10 billion in bonds for CHSR, and that’s great. But spend the $10 billion and start paying the interest on the bonds — with what? Profits from one fourth or one fifth of a basic system? So who will buy those bonds? Well, maybe you don’t need a business plan showing profits to pay the interest. After all, the bonds will be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the great State of California? And what is that promise worth today?

    Who thinks private investors will ever step forward? I always thought that was a code for, “If we can just get it started, we can get money from the government to finish it.”

    Private investors might be interested if they could look around the world at profitable HSR routes. Well, I understand that Paris-Lyon is a real moneymaker for the French operators. But that is NOT counting any of the capital costs of building the line, which was paid for by the French government.

    More investors will recall the experience of those who bought stock in the Chunnel. They got coupons for a trip under the English Channel when the trains started to run. Maybe they got to take that ride, but otherwise the company rode into reorganization, as bankruptcy is politely referred to.

    Now money is coming from the stimulus package(s)? Well, I expect there will be another half-trillion dollar stimulus package next year, because even if the economy bottoms, unemployment is a lagging indicator, and unemployment will still be 10% or more next year. We’ll need to “stimulate” more construction jobs.

    So, yes, you could get a few billion to work with from the stimulus funds. I’d use that to build the straight-line tracks you will need for HSR one day and that I will use for conventional trains a.s.a.p.

    But if Congress keeps going with HSR at a rate of about $8 billion a year, lessee, for the first 5 years we will give all of it to California for their $40 billion project, and in the 6th year, we’ll give it all to California to cover the customary and usual cost-overruns on a project of this magnitude. Yeah, Congress will commit to that formula, sure it will.

    As it happens, Cali has almost exactly 1/8 of the U.S. population. So in fairness, it should get $1 billion of the $8 billion put aside for HSR. You won’t get your system built that way any time soon, not even if you get double or triple your fair share.

    Think that the state legislature will dump a few billions in HSR once the project gets underway? It will, when property values in Orange County, San Diego, and the Inland Empire return to the Bubble levels of 2006. In other words, not in my lifetime, and maybe not in yours.

    Sorry. I do support HSR. I would have voted for the bond issue if I lived in Cali. But I don’t expect to see it any time soon. There’s lot of other good stuff that needs to happen, and could more easily happen, before we get to that.

  • David Galvan

    Doom and gloom eh?

    Well, we shall see.

    I will say that your idea of running conventional trains along the track as soon as the CA tracks are built is a good one, and I hope they find a way to do that regardless of how long it takes to get true HSR rolling on the tracks. That alone would speed up public transit between S.F. and L.A., as the current system is ridiculously slow.

    And to echo BLambert’s point: The Kerry HSR bill is apparently sitting in committee as well. I don’t know if it will actually come to fruition, or if the ideas mentioned in it will just be folded into the DoT bill later this year. . . I hope the former.

    But here’s my general summary: With the confluence of a national desire for infrastructure spending, CA’s prop 1A passing, the $8B in the stimulus, the support of the executive branch, the Kerry Bill, and the public still smarting from high gas prices. . . I think we are currently in the best position since the mid-20th century to actually get the HSR system we want in this country. This opportunity, if missed, may not come again for decades. I think we should do it right, and in a way that clearly demonstrates how good and useful HSR system can be. Building more Acelas is great, but building them INSTEAD of fast-tracking a true HSR system is just building in unnecessary delays. There will ALWAYS be small incremental improvements we can do for cheaper than building the system we really want, and 20 years from now we could be having this same conversation about how we should hold off just a few decades more in favor of boosting the rail average speeds by another 10 mph or so. OR we could be having a conversation about how the midwest and florida systems are on track to deliver 200mph+ systems as well, after the CA system was built right.

    I live in California, but if some other state had a proposal and funding for true HSR that was more promising than all the others, I would be pressing for that to get prioritized as well.

    As for the funding arguments: As far as I know, the HSR routes around the world that “pay for themselves” with revenue from tickets only covers their operations. I don’t think any of them have covered their initial capital costs with anything other than taxpayer money. This is a major infrastructure investment, and if we want it to happen we need to basically swallow the pill and invest taxpayer money for the initial capital. I don’t see a way around that in any case, so we might as well get the system we really want. We don’t build these things so companies can make a profit. We build them because it would improve the lives of the citizens. Even if it takes full gov investment to build the capital improvements (to CAHSR OR incremental HSR), we can still get private investors to come on board later, and their investments can help cover operations costs and perhaps pay back the bond interest.

    Our difference of opinion is clear: you don’t believe CA-HSR should be prioritized, and I do. There’s no point in me belaboring the argument, I suppose, as I doubt I’ll convince you at this time. Given Obama’s established support, the amount of money that eventually gets paid out and who gets it will end up being decided by congress, and I know how my (CA’s) congressmen are going to vote, so I guess there’s not much I can say or do to affect it at this point. I may get my heart broken. . . but maybe not. :)

  • Woody

    David, you make a good case that this is the best opportunity in many a year. And I admire your optimism.

    I keep thinking, though, that the whole blossoming we are enjoying under “Obama: The First Three Months” is like the feeling the man had when he stopped beating his head against the wall. Sure it felt REALLY good. But he could hardly think straight, and while no longer beating his head against a wall, he was not really making much progress.

    Yes, after 8 years of Bush trying to kill Amtrak, and 8 years of Clinton not giving a shit about Amtrak, we are no longer hitting our heads against the wall. But a lousy $8 billion, or another couple of billion here and there, we still are not really making much progress. We’ve pissed away almost a hundred times that much on big banks, insurance companies, and Wall Street already.

    Maybe things will get better before the year is over It’s been only three months, after all.

  • DBX

    First things first. For the stimulus project, we go after bottlenecks in the system, and we fund shovel-ready projects. CA HSR is not close to shovel ready — except in a handful of situations where grade-separations like underpasses are needed both for existing networks and for the future HSR line. Those will be the ones to get funding; probably not the mainline project when California can’t even sell the bonds at the moment due to its crappy bond rating.

    The Midwest, frankly, is much farther along. EIS already done in Wisconsin and Illinois and mostly done for Michigan. Clear bottlenecks in the system that need work and are ready to go. And of course things are similarly far along in the southeast. So those areas will get the lion’s share of the funding.

    CA HSR should be a separate funding mechanism from the stimulus or even the $1 billion a year so far promised for the next five years. It should be funded the way a new interstate highway would be funded. And that stream of money might finally get the bondholders interested. Siphoning two or three billion from the stimulus is not going to do the trick — it needs to be a clear partnership commitment by the federal government.

    Also, don’t forget the Northeast. Metro North’s section of the Northeast Corridor is in horrible condition; ninety year old catenary and wooden ties, for starters. Do you know of anyone who has 90 year old wiring in their homes? Several other stretches need work and/or are capacity-constrained. Baltimore needs miles of new tunneling. Wilmington’s abandoned bypass should be re-opened for through Acela trains. Much of the line lost a track in the 1970s and 1980s, going down from five tracks to four in much of NJ, going down from three to two in much of MD, and we’re getting to the point where we need that back. A thorough end-to-end makeover of the NEC that finally institutes widespread 150mph running and clears all the capacity constraints is comparable in scale to the California HSR project, and probably also a case for interstate highway funding.

  • john

    Patrick M @ 13.18
    “s far as I understand, the Midwest project has no EIS under development. Is that correct?
    . . .

    Midwesterners, am I wrong? I don’t want to mishcaracterize your good efforts if I have missed an EIS process on any of the MWHSR corridors.”

    You are wrong.

    The Milwaukee to Madison segment EIS is complete. The MIlwaukee to Chicago segment is operating and exceeding projected ridership, so I think upgrading there (if appropriate) may not be an obstacle.

    The St. Louis-to-Chicago segment is not far from being realized, though haven’t read in-depth.

    While there are bottlenecks, they are not prohibitive and folks are ready to move.

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