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Administration releases high-speed rail plan

On April 16, the Obama Administration released a strategic plan for high-speed rail in the United States. The plan identifies $8 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start development of a passenger rail system. According to the administration, the strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. The Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding the first round of grants by late summer. Additional funding for long-term planning and development is expected from legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs.

The strategic plan identifies the following 10 high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding (Figure 1):

  • California Corridor—Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego;
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor—Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver B.C.;
  • South Central Corridor—Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock;
  • Gulf Coast Corridor—Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta;
  • Chicago Hub Network—Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville;
  • Florida Corridor—Orlando, Tampa, Miami;
  • Southeast Corridor—Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville;
  • Keystone Corridor—Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh;
  • Empire Corridor—New York City, Albany, Buffalo; and
  • Northern New England Corridor—Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany.


Figure 1: Proposed high-speed rail corridors. Source: Federal Railroad Administration.

Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor—Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston—to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.

Using the ARRA, the Obama Administration launched a competitive process for local communities to develop their high-speed rail potential by putting together plans for a network of 100-mile to 600-mile corridors, which will compete for federal dollars. The merit-driven process will result in federal grants as soon as late summer 2009.

The plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail like the kind found in Europe and Japan. Another would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster. Under the plan, high-speed rail development will advance along the following three funding tracks:

Individual projects—Provide grants to complete individual projects that are "ready to go" with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work, with an emphasis on near-term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities, and equipment.

Corridor programs—Develop entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation, and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives.

Planning—Enter into cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non-ARRA appropriations funds. This third approach is intended to help establish a structured mechanism and funding stream for future corridor development activities.

A copy of the strategic plan is available on the Federal Railroad Administration website.