Thanks to ongoing national debates about spending, budgets and deficits, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's vision for a national high-speed rail system still is far from realized. It is, however, one step closer to fruition, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last week announced $2 billion in high-speed rail awards that will be used to increase rail speeds in the Northeast, expand rail service in the Midwest, and purchase new state-of-the-art locomotives and railcars.
"President Obama and Vice President Biden's vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world," said Secretary LaHood. "The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities."
Added Vice President Biden, "Earlier this year, President Obama and I made a commitment to improve and expand America's transportation system, including the development of a modern, national high-speed rail network. And today, we're announcing investments that will continue our progress toward making this vision a reality. These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and railcars."
Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications competing for the rail money. Of those, the Federal Railroad Administration selected 15 states and Amtrak, which will split $2.02 billion among 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years.
The dedicated rail dollars include:
• $796 million for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), sections of which will be upgraded in order to allow for higher speeds — 160 mph, up from 135 — as well as more seats and improved on-time performance;
• $404.1 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest, where newly constructed segments of 110-mph track will connect Detroit and Chicago — saving passengers 30 minutes in travel time — and where upgrades to the Chicago/St. Louis corridor will increase speed, enhance safety and improve ridership;
• $336.2 million that will be used to purchase "next generation" rail equipment, including state-of-the-art locomotives and railcars for California and the Midwest; and
• $300 million to continue laying the groundwork for the nation's first 220-mph high-speed rail system in California, where an existing 110-mile segment will be expanded an additional 20 miles to advance the completion of the Central Valley project between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia are laying the foundation for high-speed rail corridors. To date, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and annual appropriations have provided $10.1 billion toward high-speed rail, of which $5.8 billion already has been obligated.