In discussing the administration’s high-speed rail initiative before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in October 2009, Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo discussed in length why the administration took this approach, and further outlined what he termed the six challenges to sustainable high speed rail. In part Szabo said:
Safety – “… In most instances, high-speed rail will not begin operations on dedicated right-of-way and infrastructure. Instead, most proposed systems will involve the use of rights-of-way and perhaps infrastructure owned and operated by America’s freight railroads. The co-location of high-speed rail and freight operations raises significant safety issues, not the least of which is determining what point high-speed passenger rail operations need to be separated from freight rail and the nature of that separation …”
Capability of the States – “Until enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act last October, there was no statutory role for states in the planning and implementation of intercity passenger rail except for the occasional one-off grant contained in FRA’s annual appropriation. Until February of this year, there was no real funding to go with this authorization. There is now a significant and pressing need to help the states develop and maintain the internal staff resources and capabilities to oversee the management of planning and program implementation of high-speed rail ...”
The Status of Planning – “The challenge we face with the advent of the high-speed rail program is that there are many states playing catch-up. How can we bring them up to the point that they have a realistic high speed program plan and implementation strategy so that they too can have the pipeline of rail projects like they have for other forms of transportation?”
Freight Railroad Partnerships – “… The challenge that we face is how to develop the infrastructure that permits emerging high-speed rail and freight rail to not only co-exist but to find the synergy to keep both world class. This will require a new level of partnerships between the freight railroads and the state promoters of high-speed rail …For many states used to solely investing in publicly owned infrastructure, however, the shift to investing public funds in privately owned assets may be a new and challenging experience.”
The Intellectual Infrastructure – “… A major challenge that we face today at the advent of the new high-speed rail program is rebuilding this intellectual infrastructure in such diverse areas as track design, signal engineering, track-train dynamics, etc …”
And, Sustainability and Managing Expectations – “There have been many efforts to promote development of high-speed rail over the years. The challenge for the administration and Congress is to make this program sustainable … The public support for the [Interstate] program did not wane, in part because our citizens could both see early successes and they knew that eventually the Interstate system would serve them as well. Of all of our challenges, this may be the most important to address.”
Moving forward to Jan. 28 of this year, after a six-month interval during which 41 states in 12 designated high-speed rail corridors and the Northeast Corridor submitted 259 grant applications requesting nearly $57 billion for various rail improvements in the name of high-speed rail, President Obama and Vice President Biden traveled to Orlando, Fla., where they announced that 79 proposals in 31 states were the winners.
As the chart and map on pages 46 and 49 indicate, the big winners in this first round of stimulus funding were the Midwest ($2.8 billion), California ($2.3 billion) and Florida ($1.25 billion). Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor also received substantial funding through a combination of ARRA and other funding, primarily through the Passenger Rail Improvement and Infrastructure Act of 2008 (PRIIA) ($1.5 billion).