» Georgia introduces plan for rail loop; the Northeast finally makes an effort to introduce better service on the Boston-Washington mainline.
It was just four months ago that the Federal Railroad Administration rewarded huge high-speed rail construction grants to states across the country, but there’s plenty more to do — California, for instance, has assembled just a quarter of the more than $40 billion it needs to complete its San Francisco to Los Angeles corridor. This week, the FRA accepted applications for $50 million in planning grants, and several states put forward proposals to study rail lines that would substantially improve the nation’s intercity train network.
The federal government will announce recipients of the grants later this summer, in addition to the winners of up to $2.5 billion in construction awards. The FRA requires a 20% local match to win funds.
One of the most interesting proposals comes from Georgia, whose state legislature has been notoriously recalcitrant in finding adequate funds to maintain the state’s public transportation systems, and which proposed and then basically abandoned a series of commuter rail lines radiating from Atlanta. Now hoping to get aid from Washington, the state is campaigning to win $16.5 million to begin planning a “Capital-Coastal” rail loop connecting the state’s biggest cities: Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Savannah, and Macon. In addition, it wants to begin considering improvements along the existing Atlanta-Charlotte route. If won, these funds would come in addition to the $750,000 the state received in January.
Georgia’s rush to submit a proposal for more planning funds was clearly influenced by the success of neighboring North Carolina and Florida in each receiving hundreds of millions of dollars earlier in the year. Unlike Georgia, those states have made clear commitments to improving their passenger rail and transit services, which explains the U.S. DOT’s reluctance to award Georgia money in the past. But the legislature’s passage last month of a bill allowing cities to increase their local taxes to fund better public transportation may indicate a change in thinking there.
California, which is the only state thus far that has made a multi-billion commitment to intercity rail, has applied for $16.6 million to advance planning on the second phase of its true high-speed system. If it wins an award, it will extend engineering studies on the corridors between Los Angeles and San Diego, between Merced and Sacramento, and between San Jose and Sacramento along the Altamont Corridor.
The Northeast states submitted an equally significant bid for $15 million to fund a study of the Washington-Boston corridor, the country’s most-used rail line. Amtrak laid out a $10.2 billion proposal for upgrades along the line last October with the expectation that ridership could quadruple to 60 million annual passengers by 2050. The eleven-state coalition that prepared the application has been slow to focus on the needs of the region’s primary corridor, dispersing money instead on secondary corridors like Connecticut’s New Haven-Hartford line or New York’s Albany-Buffalo connection.
The Northeast must move beyond state borders to respond to the needs of the area’s larger population; this is an important first step in that direction.
Amtrak released today a Northeast Corridor master plan detailing $52 billion worth of infrastructure capital needs that must be fulfilled between now and 2030 to cope with an increase in rides. The project would improve fastest New York-Washington running times to 2h15 from 2h45 today and New York-Boston to 3h08 from 3h31 today.
Other states that applied for funding in this round of FRA grants include Pennsylvania, which wants to speed up trains heading between Cleveland and Buffalo via Erie; Florida, which plans to extend its now virtually guaranteed Tampa-Orlando true high-speed line to Miami; and Arizona, which wants to connect Phoenix to intercity rail service for the first time in decades with a new link from Tucson.
Illinois applied for $8 million in federal funds to begin the upgrade of the St. Louis-Chicago route to 220 mph. The corridor will be upgraded to 110 mph using funding received in January.
Other states likely also submitted proposals; I’ll update this page and the above map as the news flows in.