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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.
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:
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.'"
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 HSRupdates.com. 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.