Friday, February 13, 2009

HSR: Where the Stimulus Money Will Go

The surprise last minute of $8 billion to fund high-speed rail projects in the economic stimulus package is leading to all sorts of speculation and posturing over how this pie will get divided up. A statement from Sen. Harry Reid's led some right-wing commentators to opine that this was little more than pork in the form of a maglev from Southern California to Las Vegas. Alas, that isn't even one of the federally designated high-speed corridors, although could always change, and senators from other states, as well as the President and Vice President, pushed for the measure.

In all likelihood the lion's share of the money will go to projects that are already in the pipeline. This is economic stimulus spending, which means the money needs to go toward projects that will create job; "shovel-ready projects" is what President Obama called them. The 11 corridors recognized by the Federal Railroad Administration have been developed to varying degrees ranging from the full-flung operation of the Northeast Corridor to route that exist mainly on paper.

The best best for receiving money are:
  • Northeast Corridor - While this is the nation's primary high-speed line it has a backlog of projects that the stimulus could fund. They range include replacing bottlenecks like the Baltimore tunnels and Zoo Interlocking in Philaldephia, which could shave minutes off schedules, to installing constant tension catenary between New York and Washington, which would enable the Acela Express to travel at its top speed of 150 m.p.h.
  • Empire Corridor - Amtrak backed out of a $140 million project to reduce New York - Albany trip times to two hours earlier in the decade when it got into serious financial trouble. The project could be brought back to the front burner with new funds., and upstate representatives are pushing for high-speed all the way to Buffalo or Niagara Falls.
  • Southeast Corridor - North Carolina has gradually been reducing trip times between Raleigh and Charlotte to three hours. Funding could accelerate the process, including double-tracking more sections of the route, which would allow additional frequencies. The planned high-speed service from Charlotte to Washington via Richmond, VA, is in the midst of a Tier II Environmental Impact Study that is expected to be completed next year.
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor - The state of Washington has a plan to increase speeds between Vancouver, WA, and Seattle to 110 mph, enabling Portland - Seattle trip time to be cut to three hours. The project involves adding a third track in congested segments, which would enable Amtrak to run more Cascade trains.
  • Midwest Corridor - The FRA and Federal Highway Administration havea record of decision for initial improvements to erduce trip times on the Chicago - St. Louis line to four hours. A project to increase track speeds to 110 m.p.h. has been approved for the Chicago - Detroit line.
  • California Corridor - Even though voters approved a $9.9 billion bond issue to help finance the network's core line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the project still in the environmental approval process.

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