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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

USDOT's high-speed rail funding decision attracts fans, foes


Yesterday’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) of which applicants won a share of $2 billion in redistributed high-speed rail funds drew praise in some rail circles and criticism from two congressmen.

USDOT officials redirected $2 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail funds initially intended for Florida to Amtrak and 15 states. The grants will provide an “unprecedented” investment to increase train speeds in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), enable the Midwest to expand service, and help states purchase new locomotives and rail cars, according to a press release.

Midwest states will receive a total of $404.1 million to upgrade track between Detroit and Chicago to allow for 110 mph operations, reducing travel time by 30 minutes. In addition, California and five Midwest states will receive a total of $336.2 million to purchase new locomotives and rail cars. California will receive another $300 million to extend construction on an initial 110-mile high-speed segment in the Central Valley by 20 miles.

Amtrak will receive the largest share of the funds — $795 million — to upgrade the most heavily used sections of the NEC, enabling the railroad to increase train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on “critical” segments, according to the USDOT.

“Once again, the [Obama] administration has scattered funding to numerous slower-speed rail projects, and allowed Amtrak to hijack 21 of the 22 grants,” said U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) in a prepared statement. Mica who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has been the USDOT’s most vocal critic when it comes to high-speed rail and federal stimulus grant decisions.

“Only two months ago, the administration finally designated the Northeast Corridor as a high-speed rail corridor, and [Monday] provided funding for projects in this region,” Mica said. “However, with Amtrak’s plan to spend $117 billion over the next 30 years, the administration continues to take a piecemeal approach to improving the NEC.”

Mica also called for a “comprehensive, responsible plan” for the corridor, and said Amtrak is “incapable of a project of this scope.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, echoed Mica’s sentiments.

“We need to focus government funds on the lines that make most sense, and create incentives to bring the private sector to design, build, maintain and manage true high-speed rail lines,” Shuster said.

Meanwhile, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) took a positive stance on the USDOT’s funding decisions. APTA President William Millar praised the Obama administration for investing in high-speed rail, calling it an “important step” in modernizing the U.S. transportation infrastructure.

“The $2 billion additional investment builds upon the current momentum for high-speed and intercity rail and helps carry forward the projects already under way in many states,” Millar said in a prepared statement. "These investments will help to ensure this [high-speed and intercity passenger rail] expansion can continue throughout the country. Now, more than ever, it is true that for a healthier quality of life, a cleaner environment and economic growth, public transportation including high-speed and intercity passenger rail takes us there.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/10/2011