Richmond, Va. — Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo called on elected officials and transportation planners in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to develop a shared vision of rail service along the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Szabo’s challenge came as he addressed members and supporters of Virginians for High-Speed Rail during their 20th anniversary luncheon in Richmond.
“The metropolitan regions of the South and the Southeast in particular, are growing faster than other metropolitan regions across the country.” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “In order to meet the mobility needs of a growing population and to move the products they will need to market, rail must play an enhanced role in the transportation delivery network there.”
Across the country, regions are banding together to forge collective long-term visions for passenger rail. Along the Northeast Corridor (NEC), eight states and the District of Columbia are working on a 40-year plan for rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C. In the Midwest, nine states and 40 cities have already developed the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a planning guide for long-term rail investments.
“Good planning is the cornerstone of service delivery and a plan reflecting the collective vision for a region helps the region compete effectively for future rail funds as money becomes available,” said Joseph C. Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator. “In order for the region to achieve optimum growth, it will be necessary for them to work together more closely and plan for their transportation future.”
Administrator Szabo said regional planning between Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia could effectively yield seamless passenger rail travel all along the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta.
During his address, Administrator Szabo also highlighted the importance of the GROW AMERICA Act External Link, the Obama Administration’s four-year $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill now before Congress. The bill includes $19 billion for rail, and for the first time, would provide railroads with a predictable, dedicated funding source. The Act will invest $600 million in existing state corridors like the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor and provide an additional $6.4 billion for rail service improvements along existing, expanding and new passenger corridors over the next four years.
Passenger ridership has been setting record highs in the Southeast. In Virginia, passenger ridership is up 100 percent since 2009 and in North Carolina Amtrak’s Piedmont service between Charlotte and Raleigh continues to set ridership records carrying about 100,000 more people in 2013 than it did in 2009. Since 2007, passenger ridership in Georgia increased by 15 percent and by 14 percent in South Carolina.
Similarly, freight rail traffic in the Southeast has been increasing since 2009 an average of 10 percent annually. Georgia has seen an increase of nearly 13 percent with a more than 883,000 carloads of freight annually.
The Federal Railroad Administration, along with its 32 state partners and the District of Columbia, is laying the foundation for a higher performance rail network. Sixty-five projects worth $4.1 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funding are currently completed, under construction, or will soon start construction in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Today, about $736 million in federal funding supports a dozen projects along the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.