In April, President Barak Obama’s signing of the Full Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011 significantly reduced non-Trust Fund transportation programs. The bill provides no funding for high speed rail in fiscal year 2011 and cuts the Capital Investment Grant (New Starts) program by $400 million, in addition to a $280 million recession of fiscal year 2010 New Starts Funds.
While this may appear to be a significant blow to high-speed rail, it does not affect any projects that have already been awarded federal funding. In addition, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced earlier in April the addition of $2 billion for high-speed rail projects. The announcement originally included $2.4 billion, however the $400 million cut in the Appropriations Act takes it down to $2 billion. Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted 98 applications with funding requests totaling more than $10 billion. To date, approximately $5.7 billion has been obligated for rail projects.
On May 9, LaHood announced the projects that were awarded the additional $2 billion. The Department’s Federal Railroad Administration selected 15 states and Amtrak to receive $2.02 billion for 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years. Projects were awarded to applications that would offer the strongest and most reliable partnerships, LaHood says.
According to the Department of Transportation, the dedicated rail dollars will:
- Make an unprecedented investment in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), with $795 million to upgrade some of the most heavily-used sections of the corridor. The investments will increase speeds from 135 to 160 miles per hour on critical segments, improve on-time performance and add more seats for passengers.
- Provide $404.1 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest. Newly constructed segments of 110-mph track between Detroit and Chicago will save passengers 30 minutes in travel time and create nearly 1,000 new jobs in the construction phase. Upgrades to the Chicago to St. Louis corridor will shave time off the trip, enhance safety and improve ridership.
- Boost U.S. manufacturing through a $336.2 million investment in state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest. “Next Generation” rail equipment will deliver safe, reliable and high-tech American-built vehicles for passenger travel.
- Continue laying the groundwork for the nation’s first 220-mph high-speed rail system in California through a $300 million investment, extending the current 110-mile segment an additional 20 miles to advance completion of the Central Valley project, the backbone of the Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor.
“To be able to include Amtrak and to really highlight the Northeast Corridor I think sends the message that we’re serious about improving existing rail right away but also giving some opportunities to some projects around the country,” LaHood says.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure U.S. House of Representatives chairman, says the Northeast Corridor is the most viable area for the United States to develop high-speed rail.
“There are a number of reasons why the Northeast Corridor is the most logical area for us to develop high-speed rail. One of those reasons is the number of existing fixed transit systems in the densely populated metropolitan regions along the corridor. Without these transit connections to help distribute potential riders to their destinations, a high-speed rail system becomes less viable,” Mica says.
Mica doesn’t believe these numbers are as positive as they may appear and is disappointed in the progress that has been made.
“The United States still does not have a single high-speed passenger rail system. The closest we have come is the Amtrak Acela in the Northeast Corridor, but at an average speed of 83 mph, it’s left stuck at the station compared to truly high-speed systems in Europe and Asia,” Mica says.