» Wisconsin, North Carolina, Washington, Ohio, and Michigan also getting big investments. But no corridor is fully funded for true high-speed service.
After months of speculation about which states will get funding from the Federal Railroad Administration to begin construction on new high-speed corridors, the news is in. As has been expected, California, Florida, and Illinois are the big winners, with more than one billion in spending proposed for each. But other states with less visible projects, including Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Washington will also get huge grants and begin offering relatively fast trains on their respective corridors within five years. The distribution of dollars is well thought-out and reasonable: it provides money to regions across the nation and prioritizes states that have made a commitment of their own to a fast train program.
President Obama and Vice President Biden will make the announcement today at an event in Tampa.
Despite the excitement, though, there is plenty of work that still needs to be done — and huge amounts of money that still needs to be spent — to get most of these projects up and running. Eight billion dollars of spending won’t be enough for even one true high-speed line.
California voters committed $10 billion in taxes to a high-speed line between San Francisco and Anaheim in November 2008, and their unrivaled effort has been justly rewarded, with a commitment of $2.25 billion to the project, about half of what the state applied for in August. These funds will go to environmental work and initial construction along corridors between San Francisco and San Jose; Los Angeles and Anaheim; Fresno and Bakersfield; and Merced and Fresno. The state rail authority has pledged an equal match, though it has not yet established exactly how much each corridor will receive.
Roughly one hundred million more would go to improvements on existing Amtrak corridors throughout the state, including a large expansion of San Jose’s Diridon Station and 110 mph trains on the Pacific Surfliner between San Diego and Los Angeles.
With the largest project planned in the United States — the full corridor, with trains running at 220 mph speeds by 2020, will cost $42 billion — California has a lot of work yet to be done. With $2.5 billion more in high-speed funds allocated in the government’s fiscal year 2010 budget, it could reap further rewards, but it will be competing with the rest of the nation in its efforts to receive those expenditures as well. Washington will have to find significantly more money for high-speed rail to make the full San Francisco-Anaheim line a reality.
Florida, as has been hinted repeatedly by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, will get a large infusion of money as well: $1.25 billion. This is half of what the state requested, but it is clear that the federal government is convinced of this project’s merits. As a result, the state is likely to receive an additional $1.5 billion over the next few years to ensure that an 84-mile Tampa-Orlando line is up and running by 2014, connecting the cities in less than an hour at maximum speeds of 168 mph. The state government’s decision to invest several hundred million dollars in a commuter rail system for the Orlando area allowed Washington to argue that the state is making a full-fledged commitment to rail.
So is Illinois, with Governor Pat Quinn and the state legislature agreeing to spend $400 million on the proposed corridor between Chicago and St. Louis. With $1.133 billion, the state will be able to afford significant upgrades to the line on the way to 110 mph service, decreasing travel times from 5h30 to 4h00. Missouri will get some of those funds for upgraded and more reliable operations between St. Louis and Kansas City.
$823 million will go to new train service from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin and $244 million to an upgraded corridor to Detroit. Both will meet the St. Louis line in Chicago, which is poised to renew its claim to be America’s premier rail hub. After spending $47.5 million on new Talgo trainsets and working for the opening of a new manufacturing facility in Milwaukee, Governor Jim Doyle will get the new service he desires on the 80 miles of track between Milwaukee and the state capital at Madison.
The government has picked the Ohio 3C line, which will implement new service between Cincinnati and Cleveland, via Columbus, for $400 million, enough to get 79 mph trains operating there in two or three years, the first trains on the corridor since 1971. This new line has been supported by state government and will reinforce the state’s existing Amtrak network. Though the state wanted $1.53 billion for 110 mph service, it will have to wait.
On the other hand, a line through Fort Wayne in northern Indiana, proposed for a major upgrade on the way to Cleveland, will not be funded in this first phase. That’s an acceptable decision, since Ohio has pledged money to its service while Indiana has not.
North Carolina and Virginia will receive a $620 million grant to increase top speeds to 90 mph between Charlotte and Raleigh, via Durham and Greensboro. Between Richmond and Washington, the state of Virginia will build eleven miles of new track that will form the first segment of the region’s plans for 110 mph service. Both states have been active for more than a decade in funding their own services.
Washington and Oregon have grand plans for a 150 mph, fully separated corridor between their two largest cities, but the federal government’s $598 million grant will on provide enough money for a slight reduction in travel times, two new round trip trains, and better reliability. Service south to Eugene from Portland may see some improvement as well.
Notable for the lack of major proposed investment is the Northeast Region, which will only get $485 million in total from the stimulus’ high-speed rail funds. The Amtrak-operated Northeast Corridor has already been pegged for $706 million in upgrades, funded by a separate source of money.
As part of the stimulus funds, Vermont will get $50 million to reduce trip times to Burlington by 30 minutes within two years. Massachusetts will receive financing to reroute the Vermonter service north of Springfield. Maine will be able to reactivate the 30-mile train line between Portland and Brunswick. Connecticut will get money to build 11 miles of new track along its proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line. New York, contrary to expectations, has not received a full-throated endorsement of its project to upgrade operations between Albany and Buffalo; it will only get limited funds ($151 million) for track upgrades. Several crossing improvements will further speed up trains between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, which are already the second-fastest in the country.
Iowa and Texas will get small grants to fund minor improvements for their systems. Texas’ huge T-Bone project has not received any funds, for two clear reasons: there is no political advantage in funding a project in a state unlikely to vote Democratic at the national level for the next decade at the least, and the state government has done nothing to fund the project independently — or even approve its exact route.
As a whole, these investments are genuinely exciting; they confirm the administration’s commitment to high-speed rail and they have rewarded states that have invested their own funds in the program. The DOT has chosen projects that are responsible first investments and which will improve rail-based mobility in the affected states. The Administration, despite President Obama’s pledge of a spending freeze, suggests that it’s still ready to provide $5 billion for high-speed rail over the next five years.
But that’s not enough. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) would extend 2010’s commitment of $2.5 billion annually until 2014, which would do more. But for projects like California’s to truly get off the ground without defunding everything else, there will have to be even more money available. The government is going to have to step up: today’s announcement is just a start.
|U.S. Invests in High-Speed Rail
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|Information from U.S. DOT here and here