High Speed Rail: Coming To A City Near You?

High Speed Rail Update
High Speed Rail Update

China is leading the world in miles of high speed rail lines with 2,813 miles in operation and another 5,312 under construction. Spain, France, and Japan are all vying for 2nd place. Germany and Italy each have around 600 miles of high speed rail. The U.S.? Zero. But that could soon change. President Obama’s proposed plan to funnel $53 billion dollars into high speed rail projects over the next 6 years has caused many states to line up like bridesmaids ready to catch the high speed rail bouquet. Read on to learn what is currently happening in the financial world of high speed rail.

There’s no denying that high speed rail is an efficient mode of transportation. As Denis Doute, CEO of France’s railway system, SNCF, states:

A single high speed rail line can carry the equivalent of a 10-lane freeway, can be built for much less cost, is cheaper to operate, uses a tiny fraction of the energy (from electricity, not oil), and operates without congestion or delays – especially during rush hour and peak travel days.

What’s not efficient is trying to keep up with where exactly all these federal funds are going. Today marks the deadline for states to bid on an available 2.4 billion dollars worth of federal funding. Here’s a breakdown on where some of the states stand on high speed rail projects:

High Speed Rail Map Projects and Funding: Trains Magazine
High Speed Rail Map Projects and Funding: Trains Magazine

Florida: Governor Rick Scott declined 2.4 billion dollars in federal funds to develop a high speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando. After questions were raised on his authority to do so, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to dismiss the claims, officially halting the Tampa-Orlando Rail Project in its’ tracks. The Florida high speed rail line would have created 24,000 jobs in the construction phase and according to the latest ridership study, would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in the first year of operation.

Which means the 2.4 billion dollars is up for grabs and the states making bids are:

Wisconsin: Yes, you read that right- Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker, the face of high speed rail opposition, now wants $150 million to upgrade Amtrak’s Hiawatha line, running from Milwaukee to Chicago. Ironically, Wisconsin would have already had the money if the governor had accepted federal funds totaling $810 million last year. The Hiawatha line saw record ridership numbers in 2010 and, according to studies by America 2050, is one of the lines with the greatest ridership potential.

Illinois: Benefiting from Walker’s refusal of high speed rail funds, Illinois has already begun work on upgrading the Chicago to St. Louis line from a 79 mph route to a 110 mph route. A popular billboard by Wisconsin’s democratic party read, Dear Scott Walker, Thanks for the money and jobs. Love, Illinois. Illinois could soon be thanking Rick Scott, if  awarded some of the funds from Florida which would further boost the Chicago-St. Louis high speed rail project.

Missouri: To complement the Illinois route, Missouri would use the money for high speed rail service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

California: The California High Speed Rail Authority wants all the Florida money to complete what they call the backbone of the statewide system- Merced to Bakersfield. Though most of the lines are in the planning stage, California is the state with the most ambitious plan for true high speed rail running at 220 mph. And they’re the furthest along the high speed rail track.

New England: Massachusetts is asking for money for upgrades, while governors from Vermont and Rhode Island have teamed up on high speed rail plans in an effort to present a united front in an effort to win money for the New England region. Connecticut has a vision for a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line.

Amtrak Acela Train
Amtrak Acela Train

The Northeast Corridor: Considered the most viable region for high speed rail, states along Amtrak’s existing Acela route, which connects Boston to Washington D.C., would benefit from the federal funding to make improvements and further invest in developing a true high speed rail infrastructure. Despite the Acela not meeting the definition of true high speed rail, ridership has been up. This combination of proven success with Amtrak’s inability to run efficiently may open the door for private companies investing in high speed rail in the Northeast.

Ohio: High speed rail across Ohio seems to be dead for now after Governor Kasich turned down $400 million. Though Ohio could be vital to connecting the northeast with the mid-west states, LaHood says that the rejection won’t affect neighboring states’ chances of being granted money.

For more on high speed rail see US High Speed Rail Association and Trains Magazine.

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