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Part 1 : Rail Outlook: 2010 (Table of Contents)
Part 2 : Rail Outlook 2010: Inching toward a new normal
Part 3 : Class I outlook: A gradual recovery's in the offing, CEOs say
Part 4 : Short Lines: They'll eye the economy, potential 'regulatory tsunami'
Part 5 : Rail Cars: 15,000 cars in 2010
Part 6 : Transit outlook: High unemployment, low retail sales could make 2010 even more difficult than 2009
Part 7 : High-Speed Rail: States won't have to wait too much longer for federal funds
By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
The 2010 outlook for the public transit industry might be dismal, but another form of passenger transport is poised for a breakthrough year.
For years, high-speed rail (HSR) advocates have lobbied for funds to advance projects that would enable passenger trains to operate at speeds of 110 mph or higher. But their calls have gone unanswered ï¿½ at least until early 2009.
When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was unveiled in February, it included $8 billion for HSR, an amount directly requested by President Obama.
State departments of transportation and HSR authorities spent much of 2009 scurrying to get HSR projects prioritized and apply for stimulus funds, which were due on Aug. 24 for funding Tracks 1, 3 and 4 (ready-to-go projects) and Oct. 2 for funding Track 2 (long-term corridor planning).
Thirty-four states submitted 214 applications totaling $7 billion for ready-to-go projects and corridor planning; 24 states submitted 45 applications totaling $50 billion to advance high-speed rail corridor programs.
But states will have to wait a little while longer to find out if they received stimulus funds. The Federal Railroad Administration, which is administering the grants, plans to announce the first round of grant recipients in winter ï¿½ likely in late January or February, many high-speed followers believe.
The Administration and FRA have given no indication which projects are in line to receive funds, but many believe that California will be a top recipient. The state applied for $5.9 billion in Track 2 funds to support its proposed statewide high-speed rail system, which calls for operating trains at speeds up to 220 mph.
"You'd have to consider California to be the premier application given the tens ï¿½ probably hundreds ï¿½ of millions of dollars they've spent on engineering, design and planning, and the $10 billion of their own money they're investing through the bond funding passed last year," said National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association President Chuck Baker during an Oct. 30 Webcast, "On the Fast Track: The Stimulus' Impact on High Speed Rail," on HSRupdates.com.
Other funding seekers include New York, which applied for $11.6 billion in Track 2 funds for its Empire Corridor system; a slew of Midwestern states, which are requesting $8.2 billion for a Chicago Hub network; North Carolina and Virginia, which are seeking $5.1 billion and $1.8 billion; Oregon and Washington state, which are seeking $2.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively, for the Cascades corridor; and Florida, which requested $2.6 billion for the Tampa-to-Orlando leg of its proposed high-speed rail network.
Expect the administration to spread available high-speed funds around, said Baker.
"It would be awfully difficult to sustain support for this kind of program if just [one state] received funds," he added. "I think the money can be spread around the country in an effective way to sustain support for this kind of program."
And sustained support will be key to high-speed rail's success in 2010 and beyond.
"The momentum for high-speed rail will depend on whether additional funding is available," says American Public Transportation Association President William Millar. "The stars and moon are lining up. The key will be if it continues."
So far, the signs are looking pretty good. After President Obama requested $1 billion for high-speed rail in the FY2010 transportation appropriations bill, the House came back with a proposed $4 billion allocation and the Senate, $1.2 billion. And in summer, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) included $50 billion for high-speed rail in his proposed surface transportation authorization bill.
"If that provision is kept intact and if the Administration continues its support for high-speed rail, I think next year could be one of those years we circle in red and look back on and say, 'This was the year that this all really moved forward big time,'" says Millar.
For more comprehensive information on high-speed rail ï¿½ including news and state plans ï¿½ subscribe to HSRupdates.com.