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Latest high speed rail news and plan overview, map NEWSWIRE

By | July 19, 2011

Here's what the Obama administration's high speed rail plan means for the country.

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UPDATED: Map of high speed rail projects and funding 
high-speed-map-012910 

Illustration by: Rick Johnson
Updated January 29, 2010

High speed rail coverage inside TRAINS magazine
Florida hits fast-forward button, by Bob Johnston, June 2010
Orlando-Tampa high speed project chosen because of its manageable scale, game-changing potential
Why high speed plans make sense, by Rush Loving, June 2010
Two true high speed links, combined with more funds for passenger rail, could be a winning combo
Feds chip in on NS, CSX plans, Andy Cummings, May 2010
‘TIGER’ stimulus cash funds Crescent Corridor, National Gateway
High speed rail is only the past disguised as the future, by Don Phillips, May 2010
U.S. trains once ran 100 mph-plus behind steam
High speed rail money allocated, by Andy Cummings, Sarah Gottlieb, and the Trains staff
Will an $8 billion investment remake passenger rail, or will complacency return?
Overview
Significant portions of the proposed U.S. passenger rail network got a big boost when President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood introduced the administration’s “Vision for High Speed Rail in America” on April 16.

The plan calls for $8 billion to be allocated among 10 corridors, first designated by previous administrations between 1992 and 2000, broken down into categories. They include conventional 79-90 mph routes, 90-110 mph routes, 110-150 mph routes, and European-style 150 mph and faster routes that operate on their own rights-of-way.

On July 24, the Federal Railroad Administration published guidelines for funding in three categories:

  • Projects with preliminary engineering completed (for example, Washington State’s Port Defiance bypass through Tacoma on the Seattle-Portland Cascades route)
  • Corridor programs that have established service objectives and “reasonable project cost and benefit estimates” (such as the Midwest Chicago Hub corridors)
  • Planning where states have yet to show interest because no federal funding mechanism has been in place (the Gulf Coast or Northern New England corridors).

Initial applications are due in August, and the first grants are to be announced in October. LaHood can allocate funds among categories, but states are already jockeying for position. In the Midwest, seven governors agreed to back a plan that would exclude some of their states’ designated corridor segments from the first phase of funding (see map above). Of course, California would love to get a major jump-start on its ambitious $40 billion high speed proposal.

Look for LaHood to aim for a balance between projects that might pay off with measurable service improvements by the 2012 election, and new, grade-separated passenger rights-of-way, which would become crucial links to higher-speed systems down the road. Two significant examples of the latter are between Chicago and Porter, Ind., and Richmond, Va., to Raleigh, N.C., where in both cases most preliminary engineering has been completed and property acquisition costs would be minimal because previously abandoned roadbeds can be used.

The exact weighting of judging criteria has yet to be outlined, but they are to include an assessment of public benefit, mitigating risks, and the completeness of the applications. How much money a state or corridor compact might bring to the table will likely make a difference among which projects are chosen, but the whole point would be not to make it a prerequisite, as has been the case with the $30 million of rail projects that the FRA picked during fiscal 2009.

By not setting the high speed bar too high, the plan provides the first glimmer of hope outside the Northeast Corridor that long-ignored virtues of rail are finally being recognized after the country sat on the sidelines for so long. — Bob Johnston

Visit the Federal Railroad Association and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act web site.

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