High-Speed Rail

Sec LaHood and VP Biden to Meet with Governors Today on HSR

Meeting will discuss funding and implementation of high-speed rail corridors.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will meet with a variety of state governors and officials later today to discuss the $8 billion high-speed rail element of the recovery bill. States have yet to formally submit their applications for the funds, and the administration will put more information on the table before they do. Mr. LaHood has a blog post up about the event. Here’s the White House’s list of attendees:

  • California: Chair, High-Speed Rail Commission
  • Georgia: Governor Sonny Perdue
  • Illinois: Governor Pat Quinn
  • Iowa: General Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff
  • Maryland: Acting Secretary of Transportation
  • Massachusetts: Governor Deval Patrick
  • Michigan: Governor Jennifer Granholm; Director of Transportation
  • Missouri: Governor Jay Nixon
  • New Hampshire: Deputy Commissioner of Transportation
  • New Jersey: Commissioner of Transportation
  • North Carolina: Secretary of Transportation
  • Ohio: Director of Transportation
  • Oklahoma: Assistant Director of Administration, DOT
  • Pennsylvania: Governor Ed Rendell
  • Rhode Island: Director of Transportation
  • Tennessee: Commissioner of Transportation
  • West Virginia: Secretary of Transportation
  • Wisconsin: Governor Jim Doyle
  • Virginia: Governor Tim Kaine

It’s not made known whether these individuals were selected specifically for attendance, or whether all states received invitations; I would assume the latter. Nonetheless, the list makes it clear which states are serious about attempting to move federal funds, and which ones aren’t as enthusiastic. The most significant states not represented are Texas, Florida, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Minnesota, each of which has a high-speed rail program and which was theoretically intending to apply for federal funds. On the other hand, there is no requirement that a state has to have a representative at this meeting to receive funds, so perhaps the governments of those states are confident in their approaches without having to attend a meeting in Washington. Secretary LaHood previously stated that California and Florida were “way ahead” of the others and most likely to receive funds. We’ll see.

More on this after the meeting.

21 replies on “Sec LaHood and VP Biden to Meet with Governors Today on HSR”

I suppose La Hood is planning to jump start funding 100% of the initial segments of California’s system? ‘Cause today California is bankrupt.

To Ray – Doesn’t California already have bonds they sold to start their HSR system?

I think the next big lobbying effort we’re going to have to engage in is talking to our representatives on the T&I committee in the House to make sure as they draft the new transportation bill, that there’s a guaranteed funding stream for HSR development just like there was for the interstate highway system. Otherwise I’m afraid next time (god forbid) there’s a republican administration or a less transit friendly administration (or Congress) that the yearly appropriation will be too easy to cut. And then we’re stuck for another 10-15 years.

Very strange that Florida, New York, and Washington aren’t there. I’m not so surprised that Texas and Minnesota aren’t there. I would not expect Texas to get any funds except for some studies. Minnesota won’t be moving ahead too much until Pawlenty is gone.

I hope they will all tell Biden and LaHood that a mere $8 billion is not enough to go around, and so it is only a tease.

I hope someone also pipes up to say we need a few billions to order 1,000 new cars for Amtrak to increase regular service on existing or dropped routes, while we wait for the sweet bye and bye of high-speed trains. The nation is bigger than a dozen corridors, and the whole country needs better rail service now.

“…the list makes it clear which states are serious about attempting to move federal funds, and which ones aren’t as enthusiastic…”

can this also be translated into: just trying to look like u care (Kaine) or don’t give a crap cuz ur term is almost over (Kaine) or gonna let the VA GA walk all over it (Kaine)?

I think everyone (including Biden) is well aware that 8 billion is not enough. At every turn LaHood mentions that it took decades to build the interstates and that this is just the first investment. As an analogy, the PA turnpike was around for 20 years before the interstate highway system ever got off the ground. Similarly with the NEC and now the rest of a new HSR network. But again, that’s why it’s so important to get a dedicated funding stream so we can build out in a deliberate manner. And that’s why it’s so important that all of us as citizens lobby for better rail transit. Being passive and hoping that lawmakers will do the right thing on their own is not an option.

t1ewis – Hasn’t it been Kaine’s administration that’s gotten the new amtrak runs started in VA?

I don’t think he’s been nearly as active as Doyle or Quinn, but I don’t think he’s been absent either, especially compared to states like Ohio (before Strickland) or Minnesota (where the legislature has basically forced the administration to act).

I think the one point that is continually overlooked regarding HSR development in this country is the need for states to be willing to pony up cash as well, whether it is for capital improvements or operating costs.

Everyone is scrambling to get cash from the feds, but I have very rarely seen anyone even mention the role that states are going to play. The role they must play will extend long after stimulus money is a thing of the past.

Don’t get my wrong, the federal government should play a very strong role in providing capital investment across the country and I think it is something that will hopefully show up in the surface transport bill currently heading through Congress. We need a national rail network that has its capacity significantly increased while working with the current freight owners.

What I don’t understand is why only $8 billion? That is chump change compared to what is spent on highway construction.

There should have been $20-$25 billion for HSR in the stimulus. That would have actually gotten something built.

My guess is that New York didn’t get to meet with Biden about HSR because New York doesn’t really care about HSR. The NEC is good for New York, but it’s even better for Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, where people are disproportionately likely to want to visit New York (and not, say, London). The only HSR corridor the New York State government cares about is Empire, which Upstaters occasionally float as a way of transferring more money to themselves from Downstate; it stopped being a priority once the state legislature became dominated by Downstate in 2006, and may not even be shovel-ready enough to get federal funds.

Sean asks, Why only $8 billion? Well, when Bush was President that seemed like a bodacious amount for HSR. When Obama and Biden took over, they didn’t have anything from the previous administration to use, so they probably grabbed a number from John Kerry. They improved it by not making it bonds but an outright appropriation. Better if they had used the $23 billion total in Kerry’s bill, but such is life.

“National Association of Railroad Passengers
Nov 21, 2008: Hotline #580

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced S. 3700, the High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008, on November 19. The bill would create an Office of High-Speed Rail within the FRA … to guide federal high-speed rail policy … Specifically, S. 3700 would authorize $8 billion in tax-exempt bonds and $15.4 billion in tax-credit bonds that would go towards worthy HSR investments. The bill also calls for a Department of Treasury study on potential “excise taxes” to “offset expenses” related to HSR….”

I don’t know where Kerry got $8 billion, or $23 billion for that matter. But after eight years of 0, that is, zero, even a mere $8 billion looked pretty good.


while i don’t disagree about the thing with Amtrak and do in other areas. first off how he’s done almost nothing for transportation funding in VA during his term. VA as a whole needs it but Hampton Roads needs it the worst. he comes up with this little hair brained half***ed plan to fund transportation and it’s shot down with the rest of the actual good ideas at the GA. now that he ran his nose up Obama’s butt (no offense) like a credit card so he could get his little position in the DNC, now he want’s to put on his cape? truth be told he should just finish up his few months silently while hopefully somebody with some with a pair can come along and possibly (big possibly) make a better effort


I think Rahm Emmanuel might have come up with that number. I know it wasn’t put in until the final conference negotiations between the house, senate, and white house.

Remember too that Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins were all holding us hostage with their votes in terms of keeping the overall numbers down.

New York is, shall we say, a bit dysfunctional. I wouldn’t read anything into their absence; New York is serious about the Empire Corridor, but they aren’t *organized* because they only just started being serious about it. (Politically, the Democrats currently are crucially focused on winning upstate seats in the State Senate — this controls the balance of power — and shoving high-speed rail to upstate is a natural ‘Democratic’ way to do so.) But it’s not remotely shovel-ready because there has been so little work done on it in the past.

Minnesota, it’s clear, is waiting for Pawlenty to leave.

The missing state which stands out to me is Indiana. It’s the critical link between Chicago and Michigan and between Chicago and the East (including Ohio). I’m afraid improvements in Indiana may have to be funded entirely by the federal government and by neighboring states, with a 0% local match. If so, expect no stations in Indiana!

But it’s not remotely shovel-ready because there has been so little work done on it in the past.

There’s all sorts of things that have been done in the past. 40 years ago it took 4 hours to get from Grand Central to Albany. You couldn’t get from Penn Station to Albany. Trip takes two and half hours now.

The project for a second track between Albany and Schenectady is very well along, it’s just waiting for funding. There’s all sorts of things going on between Albany and Montreal, dump some money in Canadian Pacific’s lap and they could be sped up. Adding a third track between Albany and Buffalo along a ROW that is already 4 tracks wide is CSX’s and Amtrak’s wet dream. I’m sure they at least have plans that are far along for passing sidings. I think improved signaling between Albany and New York is being done if it’s isn’t already complete… Lots of stuff in NY, it’s just that none of it is spectacular.

There are no plans to electrify to Albany and beyond, are there?

There’s a paragraph in the current rail plan about electrifying Poughkeepsie to Albany. It boils down to “someday we’ll think about catenary” Nothing about cost estimates or proposals to start planning that I’ve seen.

I don’t know that you can read much of anything regarding HSR support into the participation of a given governor or the state they represent. e.g. Neither Sonny Perdue nor the Georgia Legislature have been fans or at all supportive of rail initiatives in Georgia – HSR or commuter – nor of fixed mass transit of any sort. More than likely, the feds saw Atlanta and Jesup(Brunswick) as key points in the HSR network and he was invited due to that. However, the good news is that he came back from the meeting with a more encouraging attitude towards HSR .

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