News & Reviews News Wire Biden administration heralds commitment to high speed rail

Biden administration heralds commitment to high speed rail

By David Lassen | December 9, 2023

FRA grant reaction: Amtrak says it looks forward to working with partners on corridor efforts

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President Joe Biden speaking at podium with banner reading "high speed rail" above him
President Joe Biden discusses grants for the Brightline West and California high speed rail projects at the Carpenter International Training Center in Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. White House/Adam Schultz

President Joe Biden and passenger rail advocates on Friday hailed announcement of two major Federal Railroad Administration programs — one providing $8.2 billion in grants for construction of passenger-focused projects [see “FRA announces $8.2 billion in Federal-State Partnership passenger grants,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023] and the other announcing routes selected for further passenger development, either as new or extended routes, or with increased frequencies [see “Full list of passenger routes …,” News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023].

Biden highlighted the $6.1 billion for the Brightline West and California high speed projects included in the Federal-State Partnership funding during an appearance Friday in Las Vegas, Nev., saying “world-class high speed rail” had been one of his commitments as a presidential candidate. “Today I’m here to deliver on that vision,” he said. “You have no idea how much this pleases me.

“Together, we’re finally going to make high-speed rail happen between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We’ve been talking about this project for decades. Now we’re really getting it done.”

Emphasizing the economic impacts of the project, he said it would create 35,000 jobs during construction, 10,000 in union building trades, with another 1,000 in operating jobs when the project is completed. He also focused on that aspect of the California project, saying it had created 12,000 construction jobs to date, with more to come.

The California project, he said, “is the most ambitious rail project in the entire Western hemisphere,” with a goal of carrying 31 million passengers annually when fully completed between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Think of how this grain will transform California’s Central Valley with new businesses, new residents, vistiors, economic opportunies, or what it will mean to folks who live in inland towns and commute to work in California coastal cities. It’s a game changer.”

Along with the other projects announced Friday, and the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development Program — “supporting 69 rail projects still in their early stages across 44 states” — Biden said the announcements were part of the administration’s “biggest investment for passenger rail literally since the creation of Amtrak a half a century ago.”

Wes Edens, Brightline founder and chairman, called the funding “a historic moment that will serve as a foundation for a new industry, and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country. We’re ready to get to work to bring our vision of American-made, American-built, world-class, state-of-the-art high speed train travel to America.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also focused on the high-speed rail grants in a conference call with reporters.

“If you’ve ever seen the standard of passenger rail service in Japan, or Germany, or for that matter Spain or Italy,” Buttigieg said, according to CBS News, “and come home and say, ‘Why can’t we have these nice things,’ this is the beginning of the answer to that.”

Unions also celebrated on the high-speed announcements.

“The idea of high-speed rail has been discussed in this country for decades, and it is beyond exciting to see it coming together,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) in a statement. “Our members, and our brothers and sisters throughout rail labor should see this as a day when our nation’s president and the country itself recognize our value and what we bring to the table.

Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, said in a statement, “On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of workers we represent in the passenger rail and building trades sectors, we commend the Biden Administration for awarding this federal funding to support the Brightline West and California high-speed rail projects. Both projects have already demonstrated their commitment to high-road job creation by agreeing to use skilled workers for the construction, operation, and maintenance of these high-speed rail lines.”

Amtrak impact

People standing on station platform as train approaches
Passengers wait to board the Chicago-bound Cardinal at Crawfordsville, Ind., on July 10, 2023. Increasing the train from triweekly to daily operation is one of four Amtrak-led efforts among the 69 routes selected for the FRA Corridor Identification and Development program. Bob Johnston

Reaction to the funding devoted to upgrading current Amtrak routes or exploring future expansion drew less national attention but more along the routes involved, led by comments from elected officials announcing funding ahead of Friday’s FRA release [see “North Carolina, Ohio corridors lead list …,” News Wire, Dec. 5; “Legislators announce selection …,” News Wire, Dec. 6; and “Routes from Chicago join list …,” News Wire, Dec. 7].

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner, in a company release that also collected some of that local reaction, said the company’s “ridership is soaring and we’re advancing plans to further enhance and expand our services across the United States with our various partners, thanks to these grants. We’re eager to bring the benefit of Amtrak’s network and experience to support states and local communities as they work to bring intercity passenger rail to new communities across America.”

Just four of the 69 corridors selected are Amtrak-led efforts: The Dallas-Houston high speed rail route, in which the company has joined with the ailing Texas Central effort; the extension of Northeast Regional service to Long Island; and converting the Cardinal and Sunset Limited from triweekly to daily operation. The others will ultimately require increasing levels of financial commitment from their local sponsors, including a 10% funding match in the second step and a 20% match in the third step, which involves preliminary engineering and environmental impact reports.

“These grants will support the introduction of daily Amtrak service in regions that currently have to make do with trains that only come through their town three times per week; they will help expand popular Amtrak services in rapidly growing parts of the Southeast; and they’ll plant the seeds for scores of new routes across the nation,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “A successful federal passenger rail program must do more than improve the commutes in coastal cities—investing in an improved and expanded Amtrak is the surest way to ensure that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law improves the transportation network for all Americans.”

Follow Trains News Wire for analysis of the corridor selections.

34 thoughts on “Biden administration heralds commitment to high speed rail

  1. This administration and this so call secretary of transportation are a joke, do what’s good for the people now, not in a dream world. America does NOT want or need to go this road that this administration wants us to go down. Very few Americans would ride high speed rail! Most Americans could not afford the ticket price anyway. This administration knows this already.
    Put this money that this administration wants to spend on high speed rail though out our country into Amtrak infrastructure, there is, right now a basic infrastructure already in place, use it now!
    It will take 20 years or so just to require land and build a infrastructure, help the American people now, make Amtrak more available all over our country to all Americans. More people would ride though out our great country if you would treat Amtrak like a true passenger service this country as been there before back in the 30s and 40s and 50s and did a great job between freight and passenger service without all the modern technology, so just think what we could do today, it can be done, quit lining these politicians with the money that needs to go to our passenger service though out the whole country not just some but the whole country a true passenger service, period!
    Make a America passenger service great again!

  2. There is a great story in Time Magazine about why we don’t have true high speed rail in the US like our competing foreign neighbors. Why,,,no one wants to spend on the one major requirement: Top grade roadbed and welded rail. The insistence on running HSR (?) on freight rail systems is a joke. When the Alstom Acela train sets were brought to this country as a slightly downgraded version of the French TTV, the French Technicians called then “cochon,” French for pig. The trains had to be made heavier to withstand crashes with freight trains, unheard of elsewhere in the world. That made them more expensive and more difficult to design and ran much rougher than than the TTV that runs on separated passenger quality lines. The Acelas now only run at their design speed of 150 mph in a small stretch of area between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You can see this story in line at time.com/6340931/america-high-speed-rail-history/.

    Biden is taking credit for something that will probably end up like the United Aircraft Turbo Train or the Metroliners of pre-Amtrak era, PRR or Penn-Central. The track was just not good enough for the stated intention of 160 mph (Metroliners) to165 mph. (Turbo Train which still holds the high Speed record at 170.8 mph for a passenger train bu was restricted to speeds of 63 mph.) What might have been is a REAL commitment was made to accomplish such a goal. It will never happen as long as a dedicated tax for a commuter and long distance trains does not exist. Congress doesn’t have the stomach or the will to do what’s right, even when they stump on the need for more environmentally suitable means of travel which means a HSR option. The feds should build the transcontinental option with the states participating in the regional option. They talk about shovel ready projects. This could easily be a shovel ready project that would be a boon to US citizens forever…

    1. One more thing; the current over planning and environmental assessment would have to be reduced for any chance of this to happen. What the STB and courts did to Savage Tooele and The Uinta Basin Railway in Utah is anti economic growth in every way. As Bill Stephens wrote in the January “Trains,” the government is great at letting railroads abandon ROW’s but has done nothing to help build them where they are needed. To make this go, tunnels will have to be drilled and gradual curves designed around cities, This needs to be 250-400 mph HSR, not another freight project where 70-80 mph might be max. Do we have the statesmen willing to push this kind of project or are all of our politicians in a make money and get out mode? Unfortunately, I think it is the latter. including our railroad minded president.

  3. There is a great story in Time Magazine about why we don’t have true high speed rail in the US like our competing foreign neighbors. Why,,,no one wants to spend on the one major requirement: Top grade roadbed and welded rail. The insistence on running HSR (?) on freight rail systems is a joke. When the Alstom Acela train sets were brought to this country as a slightly downgraded version of the French TTV, the French Technicians called then “cochon,” French for pig. The trains had to be made heavier to withstand crashes with freight trains, unheard of elsewhere in the world. That made them more expensive and more difficult to design and ran much rougher than than the TTV that runs on separated passenger quality lines. The Acelas now only run at their design speed of 150 mph in a small stretch of area between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. You can see this story in line at https://time.com/6340931/america-high-speed-rail-history/.

    Biden is taking credit for something that will probably end up like the United Aircraft Turbo Train or the Metroliners of pre-Amtrak era, PRR or Penn-Central. The track was just not good enough for the stated intention of 160 mph (Metroliners) to165 mph. (Turbo Train which still holds the high Speed record at 170.8 mph for a passenger train bu was restricted to speeds of 63 mph.) What might have been is a REAL commitment was made to accomplish such a goal. It will never happen as long as a dedicated tax for a commuter and long distance trains does not exist. Congress doesn’t have the stomach or the will to do what’s right, even when they stump on the need for more environmentally suitable means of travel which means a HSR option. The feds should build the transcontinental option with the states participating in the regional option. They talk about shovel ready projects. This could easily be a shovel ready project that would be a boon to US citizens forever…

  4. Think most people wouldn’t mind HSR. Biggest problem is that they are starting a Passenger service from scratch. When Amtrak was formed they abandoned 60% of what was left of inter-city rail passenger travel. Since then they have cut more routes than they have added.
    People want a reliable option other than driving or flying but their aren’t many options. Three examples: (1) if you want to go from Cleveland to Cincinnati you either have to go west to Chicago then back east or go to New York and back. (2) To go from Denver to Dallas the 2 options are to Chicago then to Dallas or to Los Angeles to San Antiono then Dallas or (3) Memphis to Miami. This one is really round about, Up to Chicago then to Washington then down to Miami or to New Orleans then to Charlotte then to Raleigh then to Miami.
    Before you build HSR, build out a system that gives access to most Americans. Then after you do this pick and build your HSR corridors. Only then will you get most people behind Passenger trains.

    1. Utah just applied for funds to study a SLC to Albuquerque which could easily be expanded to Dallas.Ft Worth ot San Antonio or northward to Boise, ID, Portland OR and Seattle and basically got not a sniff. Not only Hell no but HELL NO! but plenty of places east of the Mississippi got a lot of love and money. The Rocky Mountains and the great plains always get the shaft, even when these cut-offs would save time and cost in the long run.

  5. After rereading several times what Bidden and the union bosses said, I can’t help feeling that they look on Cal. HSR as their modern version of the infamous “Big Dig” in Boston. I suspect it will go on for many, many years and possibly cost 20 times more than its original estimate.

    1. Difference is, the Big Dig got finished (plus or minus a tunnel ceiling panel fell and crushed a car and killing one of the occupants). Cal HSR never will be finished.

  6. As for those who feel the Govt should not using tax $$ for HSR the same could be said for the Interstate Hwy & aviation system the government should never have been involved in those ventures either. Both have & still do incur significant taxpayer expense & have added substantially to the much touted national debt. Or, is this the typical American mindset “if I don’t use it we don’t need it BUT if I use it I want everybody to help pay for it”

    1. I’m not against the many many billions programmed for NEC. It’s CalHSR I’m against.

  7. How about everyone shuts up about politics I come here to escape from that stuff and come to see what goes on in the world of trains not some political argument.

    1. Well, then, don’t read the article, Chris. Joe Biden works in politics, and HSR is a political beast.

      You’re free to confine your interest to other topics. You’re not free to tell us what to post.

    2. MR Collins why don’t YOU follow the point. Your whole comment is pure POLITICS not a word about the subject.

  8. Oh Mark Mark Mark. CalHSR isn’t HSR. In fact it’s nothing, it doesn’t exist, except to spend money.

    I support all the other Amtrak majors — Gateway Tunnels, Portal Bridge, Long Bridge, Frederick Douglass Tunnels, Susquehanna Bridge, the bridges in Connecticut, Chicago CREATE.

    CalHSR is a total loser, as are its two big supporters, Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom.

  9. WOW can you just imagine the number of people in the country who will avail themselves of a line between Lost Wages and California. I’m sure California’s estimates are astounding and Vegas is salivating waiting for their money.

  10. All of these proposed new routes are nice, but AMTRAK does not have enough equipment to service the current limited routes and frequencies that it provides.

  11. In the US, what is the actual definition of High Speed Rail? 150 mph? 125? And high speeds over the entire run, not just parts. Acela speed in Connecticut is not even close to high. And California may have 150 in the valley but likely closer to 60 across the mountains to SF and LA. (Once they decide the mountain routes.) What is the projected average speed from SF to LA for this project when complete? How much faster than driving direct?

    Talk about money. Think about a new, HSR line from NY to Boston. Existing rail to Westchester, then draw a straight line to Hartford, then another to Boston. Adjust for topography as needed, then prepare to buy all properties within 500 feet of each side for a 1,000 foot corridor. Cost would be quite high, political and NIMBY concerns even worse. Brightline has shown the best, California the least.

    West has some possibilities. Midwest and East, in my thoughts, minimal. 125 mph in spots at best, as in the NEC.

  12. Politics not withstanding, there are simply too many autos, SUV’s and pickups in the good old U.S. of A. Until either the lust for the freedom of four wheels or the price of gas climbs to the stratospheric levels of, say Europe, trains will never be a thing here. And even if gas prices do go nuts, Americans will simply pay up – and then whine about it.

    1. Ronald, that’s just your opinion there are too many vehicles in the USA. If you live in a highly urban setting, you will have transportation choices. If you live in low density areas or more rural areas you have the choice of using vehicles, horses [think Amish], or long walks to everywhere. In the winter, horses and walking can be really, really unpleasant.

  13. Here’s question to ponder. I don’t know the answer (no one does) and I’ll refrain from speculation. Let’s just say, we’ll be optimistic. Amtrak completes its many various bridge and tunnel projects from Connecticut to Northern Virginia. Amtrak also finds some equipment that actually runs. Between equipment and infrastructucture, a couple of hours are squeezed out of NEC schedule. Today’s potential of catastrophically collapsed infrastructre is avoided.

    Clearly reliability will improve and maintenance costs will go down. That’s not in question. The question is, will more people ride compared to now? Let’s say money were no object, for the sake of this discussion. NEC becomes a better railroad. The subsidy (capital and operating) rises to, let’s say, $3,000 per ticket or more

    Will the number of tickets sold increase, compared to now? People, your speculation is as good as mine.

  14. The main reason why the U.S. is behind on high-speed rail is primarily money. The beloved railroad country does not commit the dollars needed to build the related systems; it is really as simple as that. And it is largely a political issue.

    Dr. Güntürk Üstün

    1. Can’t ignore the crazy environmentalists and NIMBYS that have seriously hampered every new rail project attempted.

    2. Nonsense, Dr. Ustum

      The main reason US is behind on high=speed rail is primarily CalHSR and Sacramento’s lunatic enablers in Washington.

      Money? Money? What in the name of God (or in the name of Satan) do you call the endless billion sunk into CalHSR for no reason other than the wastage of concrete.

  15. Joe Biden, one of the worst losers ever to hold public office in the United States, latches on to CalHSR, the biggest public works fiasco this country has ever seen.

    I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but I can’t wait until January 20, 2025, when he will shut down federal funding to CalHSR.

    1. Nah. the biggest loser is those that follow a grifter that’s been indicted 91 times and those that go to prison for him.
      Holding up just the California High Speed Rail project as your example Charles doesn’t show much thought at all. While Japan was giving the okay for the shinkansen in the late 50’s the United States was still having steam haul trains in many places. Then the moment Amtrak was announced it was pretty much on the fast track to being killed off by Nixon and the GOP. Luckily that didn’t happen so we can here your thoughts on Amtrak until the end of time now. Meanwhile during all that time many foreign countries have adopted high speed rail leaving the United States of America in a siding (not counting Acela), best money says Mexico will be up and running high speed rail long before the U.S. of A. has more than one route. At least Brightline is trying yet you even knock that down every chance you get. Keep clinging to those “conservative” ideas and prying that America continues to lag behind the rest of the World including Communist China.

    2. Trump will be in jail in 2024, for treason, sale of classified military and nuclear secrets, obstruction of justice, election interference and armed insurrection. But there is still time for the Republican party to pick up a sane leader over this petulant 3rd-grade bully child who’s always complaining that “it’s so unfair”. You know, one that is not a convicted felon.

      Maybe that Republican candidate will even be sane enough to pursue high-speed rail development, albeit in a different form.

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