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February 2010

Rail News: Passenger Rail

Obama Administration unveils grants for 25 "major" high-speed rail corridors

by Angela Cotey, associate editor

Here it is — the dead of winter, and as promised, the Obama Administration announced the recipients of $8 billion in high-speed rail (HSR) funds authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

On Jan. 28, the Administration announced grants for 13 "major" HSR corridors. As many HSR observers expected, the top recipients were California, Florida and Illinois, which received $2.34 billion, $1.25 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively.

"We are picking the places that make the most sense — the highest density corridors that are ready to go," said Vice President Joe Biden during a Tampa Bay town hall meeting held the day the Administration unveiled the grant awards.

Big Winners

In California, stimulus funds will help construct the first phase of the proposed statewide HSR line between Anaheim and Los Angeles. Work will include purchasing right of way, constructing track, installing signal systems, building stations, and completing environmental and engineering work. The California High Speed Rail Authority expects trains to reach top speeds of 220 mph on the corridor. The state also will use funds to upgrade its three intercity passenger-rail routes, which ultimately will connect to the new high-speed service.

In Florida, funds will help construct the Tampa-to-Orlando segment of the state's proposed HSR corridor, which is scheduled to open in 2014. Trains will operate on dedicated tracks at speeds up to 168 mph.

And in Illinois, the stimulus grant will cover improvements to existing track between Chicago and St. Louis to enable 110 mph passenger-train operations. Improvements include track, signal system and station upgrades, as well as positive train control implementation. The grant also includes $31 million for the Missouri Department of Transportation to reduce bottlenecks between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Other grant recipients include:

  • Wisconsin and Minnesota DOTs, $823 million to implement 110 mph service between Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities. Funds will be used to construct stations, upgrade existing infrastructure, implement positive train control, and conduct planning and environmental work for the Madison-to-Twin Cities portion of the line.
  • North Carolina and Virginia DOTs, $620 million to continue work on the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor between Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C. Money will be used to purchase and rehabilitate locomotives and rail cars, upgrade existing and build new track, improve station security and install crossovers.
  • Washington State and Oregon DOTs, $598 million to improve service along the Pacific Northwest corridor. Funds will be used to build bypass tracks, upgrade track and signal systems, and improve stations.
  • Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Vermont Agency of Transportation, New Jersey Transit, and the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York State, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and District of Columbia DOTs, $485 million for Northeast Corridor improvements. In combination with $706 million in Amtrak stimulus grants, the funds will be used to build new stations, repair and build track, complete final design for New Jersey's Portal Bridge, eliminate some grade crossings and upgrade warning devices at others, upgrade signal systems and reroute existing lines.
  • Ohio Department of Transportation, $400 million to implement the "3C Corridor" between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati.
  • Michigan, Indiana and Illinois DOTs, $244 million to reduce trip times along the Chicago-Detroit-Pontiac, Mich., corridor. Funds will be used to renovate stations, construct a flyover in Illinois, and relieve choke points between Porter, Ind., and Illinois.
  • Iowa DOT, $17 million to install four remotely controlled powered crossovers on BNSF Railway Co.'s Ottumwa subdivision to reduce travel times and improve on-time performance.
  • Texas DOT, $4 million to complete final design and construction on signal timing improvements at grade crossings between Fort Worth and the Texas/Oklahoma border, which will increase the operating speed of Amtrak's Heartland Flyer.

In addition, six states received funds to further study HSR corridors: Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico, Vermont and West Virginia.

"We need to build the infrastructure for tomorrow," President Barack Obama said during the town hall meeting on Jan. 28. "We want to start looking deep into the 21st century and say to ourselves, 'There's no reason why other countries can build high-speed lines and we can't.'"

Mixed Feelings

Plenty of rail industry associations shared Obama's HSR enthusiasm.

"This is the beginning of our nation's journey in ... creating a world-class, multi-modal transportation system," said American Public Transportation Association President William Millar in a prepared statement, echoing the sentiments of many other industry stakeholders. "This time will be remembered as the beginning of a new era in transportation."

But not everyone was pleased with the way the HSR grants were distributed.

"The projects chosen ... were not transparently selected and lack adequate private-sector financial commitment," said John Mica (R-Fla.), Republican Leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "Most disappointing is the unfortunate hijacking of the Northeast Corridor, which for the most part was kept out of the selection process."

For much more coverage on HSR stimulus grants, including interviews with grant recipients and a Webcast analyzing the grant awards, subscribe to A one-year subscription costs $199 and also gives you access to current HSR news, HSR plans for each state and profiles of each of the federally designated HSR corridors.


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