High-Speed Rail

Final Applications Submitted for Phase I of High-Speed Rail Stimulus Dollars

Applications are for projects that are ready-to-go; another round of applications is due in October.

UPDATE: I’ve published a hard-hitting (numbers-based) rebuke to Ed Glaeser on the Infrastructurist tonight. Check it out.

After submitting pre-applications in July for more than $100 billion of high-speed rail projects, states got down to business over the past month, refining and improving their plans. Now, several states have submitted final, far smaller, proposals for construction that could begin right away.

Unlike the wild deluge of applications last month, capped by California’s request for more than $20 billion — the stimulus only provides $8 billion for the program in total — the proposals submitted yesterday were modest, focusing principally on minor improvements. California, leading the pack with its already partially financed 220 mph system, asked for $1.1 billion to create a space for trains to enter under the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and to get started on a number of smaller projects along the north-south main line.

Maryland’s important request will significantly improve service on the Northeast Corridor by replacing the 140-year-old tunnel through West Baltimore that has become a bottleneck for the entire system. Michigan asked for a significant slice of the money for improvements that would make for much faster service on the Detroit to Chicago route.

The Federal Railroad Administration, hoping to approve projects whose construction can begin right away and whose engineering had already been completed, pushed states that had more long-term plans to apply for the second round, due in early October. California, for one, plans to ask for more than $4 billion then. Grant awards for this first round will be released at the end of September or the beginning of October.

This is not a complete list; please comment if you know of other states that applied for funds yesterday.

Applicants for Ready-To-Go HSR Projects
State Amount Project Description
California $1.1 b Transbay Terminal “box,” upgrades to sections of the San Francisco-Anaheim main line in preparation for major work. (source)
Connecticut $64 m Mostly for the New Haven-Springfield commuter line. (source)
Delaware $17 m Third rail between Wilmington and Newark. (source)
Florida $270 m Construction of SunRail commuter rail system. (source)
Illinois $550 m CREATE Project, upgrading of sidings between Chicago and St. Louis, double-tracking of nine miles of track, “Midwest regional passenger rail planning needs.” (source)
Indiana $71 m Indiana section of the Detroit-Chicago line. (source)
Kansas $8 m Improvements on the route between Emporia and Barclay; planning for service between Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Fort Worth. (source)
Maryland $360 m Engineering for the replacement of the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel (from the 1870s), plans for the redevelopment of the BWI station, replacing bridges through northern MD, increasing storage at Union Station, third track from Perryville to Elkton. (source)
Massachusetts $69 m + Restoration of the Connecticut River line for Vermonter service, upgrade of Springfield-Worcester route. (source)
Michigan $830 m Renovation of route between Pontiac and Chicago, new stations at Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Troy, and Pontiac, renovations at other stations. (source)
Missouri Up to $201 m Improvements on line between Kansas City and St. Louis. (source)
New Jersey
$39 m Replacement of the Portal Bridge West of Secaucus (minor part of the whole project). (source)
New York
$565 m Elimination of bottleneck at Schenectady, third track near Rochester, general improvements from Albany to Buffalo, small improvements from Albany to Montréal. (source)
North Carolina
$76 m Improvements to track between Raleigh and Virginia state line. (source)
Pennsylvania $28 m Preliminary engineering on projects to improve speeds between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. (source)
Texas $1.8 b T-Bone corridor, Dallas-Houston, San Antonio-Houston. (source)
Vermont $52 m Upgrading of the tracks between St. Albans and Brattleboro. (source)
Virginia $75 m 11 miles of third track from Arkendale to Powell’s Creek. (source)
Washington $435 m Improvements to track between Seattle and Portland. (source)

39 replies on “Final Applications Submitted for Phase I of High-Speed Rail Stimulus Dollars”

I think the $60M allocated is just to do the engineering studies for the Baltimore tunnel; it would sadly be far too little for actually building a new tunnel, which will run to the billions. Check out the end of this Wikipedia article:

Unfortunately the relevant reference is to a 2008 Baltimore Sun article that is no longer available (why they do that baffles me) but the $60M figure is the same.

I’m a bit surprised to see NC only applied for $76 million, when their pre-application contained $4 billion, much of which was supposedly nearly shovel-ready.

As for Maryland, regardless of the $60 million only going towards the engineering study for the B&P tunnel, it’s still very good to see some actual progress towards building a new tunnel in Baltimore.

It won’t be an outright replacement, because once trains move into the new tunnel, MARC wants to refurbish it and use it as dedicated tracks for commuter trains.They allso want to re-open the long-closed Pennsylvania Avenue station for a connection between MARC and the subway at Upton. The tunnel’s constrained geometry and low speeds aren’t much of an issue for commuter trains, especially since they will be stopping in the middle of the tunnel anyway.

Is it a coincidence that the applications total up to $4 B (plus $9 mil chump change)? Surely this will not be the final “ask” — with nothing here from Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, or Oregon, among other contenders.

Still, it looks like we can almost do this! Most proposals look worthy, and the total comes close to fitting under the $4 B cap for high-speed rail’s first round funding.

Some extra room for other applications should come when the Florida bid for financing Sun Rail gets tossed. A nice project, but it’s not an HSR proposal. Sun Rail will probably deliver fewer passengers to high-speed rail than the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway.

My personal favorite woud be upgrading Detroit-Chicago. But Michigan is asking $830 mil for Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago. I’d give them $500 mil and tell them Pontiac is Stage 2.

I think $500 mil will turn out to be the maximum for any one state. Sorry Cali, and sorry Upstate NY. Politically, you just can’t slice a $4 B pie into fewer than 8 sort of equal pieces when you have 50 hungry states.

In fact, looking at it that way, I’d expect every Congressional delegation could think that its state should get $80 mil, after all. Cali won’t get very far on just 1/50th of $4 B. Even if you could give Cali ALL the money for some states off the main line, like Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, the Dakotas, it will be just drops in their huge bucket. And who thinks Wyoming will pass on the chance to bid for some funds?

A few of these early bids do come in under $80 mil. That could be a smart way to go for it. The requests from Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts look very reasonable here against New York’s half-billion dollar wish list.

It will be fun to watch it play out.

Neither New York nor Pennsylvania asked for funds for the New York-Scranton connection. Maybe New Jersey did, but it’s not on this list. Did New Jersey, one of the most passenger rail-heavy states, really not ask for anything? This, BTW, shows the futility of assigning HSR funds by state, since HSR lines will cross state lines, almost by definition.

General comment: $120 billion are needed in the New York metropolitan area over the next 20 years for maintenance/modest upgrades for transit (mostly the MTA). $100 billion is needed for high-speed rail, as evidenced by the preliminary applications, and perhaps another $100 billion is needed for various transit needs around the country. That’s $320 billion, half of the Pentagon’s ANNUAL budget. Assuming all of the $320 billion can be spent in the next 20 years, that’s $53.33 per man, woman, and child in the United States per year – a laughably small sum that we can easily afford. Why do our politicians think we’d rather spend the $53 on cars or Chinese toys?

“I’m a bit surprised to see NC only applied for $76 million, when their pre-application contained $4 billion, much of which was supposedly nearly shovel-ready.”

NC’s pre-application contains a surprising amount of work which has to be done in Viriginia. There may be some reason they can’t submit an actual application for the Viriginia work (and I’m surprised that neither NC nor Virginia submitted that application).

If you look at NC’s application a lot of stuff is classified as Tier 1, but within that not as much is actually ready right now in terms of both the NEPA and preliminary engineering. So $100 million (fed and state funding sources) I suppose sounds about right.

Have to wait to see the final proposal, but it looks like they’re only submitting projects that will be ready to go by the end of 2009.

The digs on NY are a bit unknowing.

That bottleneck up near Schenectady is a major one. It slows down all of the Empire Corridor trains that go beyond Albany and also an assortment of the national network trains. It really is one of the MUST do projects to improve rail in this country as a whole.

The tunnel at Baltimore would be huge as well, but I would expect a 1B price tag on that at least.

NC, smart in looking to connect to the NEC first and then worrying about moving across the state.

MA, ok ok, but the real work on that line needs to be done within CT first.

FL, put some of your own money up first. Then we’ll talk.

MO, Same as MA. Yes it’ll be nice, but the real connection is in another state. In this case, IL.

The list goes on and on.

We really must prioritize things that will speed up the current trains we have and even more important than speed, we MUST GET NEW RAIL CARS.

California should get a sizeable chunk of the $8B as it is necessary to build something that will actually be useful soon (Anaheim to LA) to show the viability of the project.

Also, if you use the argument that each state should get 1/50th of the $8B, pretty soon you are going to have states seceding from the union. California provides 1/8th of the entire US federal budget through taxes sent to Washington and already receives much less than it provides in taxes (same for NY) in both real terms and in transportation gas taxes/dollars.

You reall think people should be penalized because they live in a populated state?

Vermont has applied for $52 million for track (and bridge) improvements to the Vermonter route on the New England Central Railroad, one of the designated high-speed lines. The combination of the applications from VT/NH/MA/CT could take an hour and a half out of the schedule, maybe more.

Vermont and New York were also going to apply jointly for $1 million of planning money for service via Bennington VT. I assume it happened.

I understand Maine applied for funds on the Downeaster route. I would expect Rhode Island would have applied for funds. I was expecting Mass to apply for planning money for Albany – Springfield – Boston and hopefully for the North-South rail-link as well. NH is going in on track 2. Don’t know about CT.

I understand that the FRA clarified (or added) requirements for environmental work just a few weeks ago to the effect that projects had to be ready to go . . . including environmental permitting. This probably knocked some projects out. (Why projects that are just upgrading existing track need environmental permits is another question!).

Also note that there were two deadlines Monday, for track 1 (essentially ready to go projects on the existing Amtrak network) and track 3 (planning grants). Track 2 (whole corridor development) comes in October.

I summed this up and got $6.6 billion.

I sure hope that Virginia knows what they’re doing with their second-round application. DC-to-Raleigh in 3 hours would be a huge deal.

Alon, New Jersey asked for a new bridge between Newark and the hudson tubes – something that would also support the Access to the region’s core project.

Connecticut asked for a forth track between Milford and New Haven.

The new bridge between Newark and the North River Tunnels won’t help the NEC squat. If they want to increase capacity there, they’ll need to four-track the entire connection. Otherwise, it’s just a commuter rail project with no real benefits for Amtrak.

You’re right, I didn’t notice the $600,000 request for a fourth track between Milford and New Haven. Which is still a useless idea until Metro-North increases superelevation on curves and lets the Acela tilt, which could raise the speed limit on that section from 75 mph to the maximum of 150 mph.

I’m happy to see DE’s application for a third track between Newark and Wilmington for the DART run Septa R2 service and MD’s application for a third track between Perryville and Elkton. I assume the former will make Septa into DE more reliable/frequent and alleviate any clashes it has with Amtrak while the MD application is getting MARC one step closer to making it to DE.

I really hope we prioritize. The NEC corridor needs major improvement. California is a big project with real planning which would show that HSR can be created and fast from the beginning rather than the currently unimpressive Acela. But, if we spend money on states like Wyoming, Dakotas, VT etc. with HSR funds we won’t have enough for really sustainable projects. I have no problems giving them rail funding for their cities but it should NOT be HSR funds. Schenectady should only get HSR funds when there is a serious option to expand the system to Montreal… which, we need a good system first.

Minnesota is going to apply for phase 2 monies, since we are technically debating whether to go through Eau Claire, WI; Rochester, MN; or Red Wing, MN (Mississippi River, current Amtrak route). Unless a lot of real money is made a available for true HSR, it will be through Red Wing. Also, Wisconsin has already started work on the Milwaukee-Madison portion, and will certainly get federal assistance.

Yonah — Congratulations. This list was picked up (and credited to the Transport Politic) by both the National Association of Railroad Passengers and the National Corridors e-newsletters.

This site is named Transport Politics. The transport part is clear. Maybe some folks just don’t quite get the politics part.

I said that every state’s Congressional delegation will think its state should get 1/50th of the $8 B pie, or $80 mil each. And I got a lot of squawks for saying that. I didn’t say that Wyoming deserved 1/50th of the pie. But if you don’t think they will say they want “their share” then you don’t really understand how the political world works.

I promise you, when Obama and LaHood dish out the gravy, it WILL be spread around, and Cali will not get it all. Not half. Lucky if they get $1 or $2 B. Instead, many biscuits will get a sop of it. Maybe not all 50 biscuits, but probably half of them.

(I count 19 candidates on this list, and still nothing as yet from Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, or other potential entrants.)

Same for the Northeast Corridor. There’s a widespread perception elsewhere that the NEC has got all the gravy for a decade or more, while other states went dry. Two important politicians from Illinois involved in this thing probably share that view.

Living in NYC I share this view. So I’m glad to see Maryland and Delaware looking to make some improvements. But to make any breakthroughs in the NEC will cost $15 or $20 billion. Not worth it, not now.

If my brain were working better I’d try to cook up some solid statistical ways to compare bang for buck. But here’s by the seat of my pants: For $2 to $5 billion each route we can get trip times down from 5 or 6 hours or so Chicago-Detroit and Chicago-St Louis to maybe only 2 or 3 hours. Then the passenger count on those routes will increase by a factor 10 or so. For that amount of money, you could shave another 5 minutes off the timetable NYC-DC, and because you can only run one Acela per hour on that crowded line, your ridership on the already-full trains would increase by naught.

So the political reality is to spread the gravy, and in this instance, that will be O.K. from a transport view as well. We will get far greater benefit from improving many parts of the national system than from pouring $10 or $20 more billions into the NEC. Later for it. Not never, but later.

The NEC doesn’t need $15 billion. Just raising superelevation on curves, repealing the FRA’s 150 mph speed limit, and allowing the Acela to tilt in Connecticut could be enough to shave the NY-Boston run time to 3 hours. To get NY-DC to 2 hours, the NEC needs about a billion, tops – $500 million to replace the catenary, and $500 million to straighten a few curves in New Jersey and Maryland. Even 1:30 NY-Boston and NY-DC shouldn’t cost more than $7 billion plus the cost of new trainsets.

Conversely, getting Chicago-STL to 2 hours requires new HSR tracks, at an estimated cost of $7 billion. Yonah linked to the relevant study a few weeks ago – it estimates $11 billion, but $4 billion of that is budget padding. Unlike the NEC, lines in the Midwest require grade separations, concrete ties, new signaling, and continuously welded rails.

Woody is, of course, correct about the money being spread around. I hate to be the one who keeps quoting the interim guidance, but it tells you there:

Section 5.2.2: “Following the evaluation by [techie] panels, the Administrator will review . . . this review will include . . . Ensuring appropriate level of regional balance.”

I assume the regions here are the regions that FRA reported the preapplications under: NE, SE, MW, West. So, yes, the West will get at most $3B (probably less) and some of that will go to Oregon and Washington.

On the NEC there are rumors they want to replace two double track railroad birdges one across the Susahanna River and the Gunpower falls birdges with new three track bridges. But if they do these two projects they should consder building the two new bridges as four track wide bridges in case they need to put a fourth track in along the three track sections of NEC.

The Baltmore and Washingtion DC railroad tunnels are huge bottle necks on the rail lines in how they are very old and narrow. If the replaced the two bridges and the tunnels the NEC would do very well and they could always use more trains.

The rail line from Richmond VA to Washingiton is far worse and there are planns to widen it from Richmond to Washingiton as a three track mainline which would raise train speeds from 25 and 40 miles on hour to 90 and 110 miles on hour.

Ocean R — If you click on (Source) for Maryland in the table above, it says the plan is to study three new bridges with three tracks each.

I’m with you on this. I don’t why they don’t go for it — four tracks on every inch of the NEC from NYC to D.C.

Woody: because on some two-track sections in Maryland, the curves need to be bypassed anyway; this includes the worst and most expensive to fix bottleneck, the West Baltimore tunnel. It’s cheaper to build a two-track bypass now for Amtrak and only four-track the sections where trains could run at high speed given adequate catenary.

Alon — I wasn’t trying to get into the argument about bypasses vs city center run-throughs.

I was only looking at this info from the cited source: “$200 million to replace three bridges. The funds would study the replacement of the Bush, Susquehanna and Gunpowder bridges. The new three-track bridges would replace the existing two-track bridges and increase passenger service to meet the demands of high-speed rail that Amtrak requires….” — Baltimore Business Journal

The bridges over the Susquehanna and Gunpowder Rivers would probably be needed even if you built a bypass to get around that city’s tunnels and congestion. (The Bush bridge is 15 miles from the city, so maybe, maybe not.)

Like Ocean Railroader, I’m just surprised to think that we’d want to build new bridges to carry only three tracks on the spine of the NEC. The existing bridges have lasted over 100 years and carry about 100 trains a day (at a maximum speed of 90 mph), and a few freights at night. If we get the tens of millions of NEC riders you project for >2 hr trip times, I could imagine using four tracks before the next 100 years, or the next 20 years, have passed.

Ah, those bridges… yeah, they’ll have to be replaced. And four-tracked, unless MARC is planning to buy and electrify the B & O bridges.

(The bypasses in question are not for center cities, just for curves. The big one is for the section between Elkton and Perryville.)

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