Will Politics Harm Allocation Of $8 Billion In HSR Funds?

The $8 billion in stimulus funds allocated to high speed rail marks a turning point in a road-airport dominated U.S. transportation network, but the politics of allocating the funds may prevent results needed to showcase HSR.
March 10, 2009, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"High-speed rail has emerged as the cornerstone of Obama's ambitious attempt to remake the nation's transportation agenda, which for half a century has focused primarily on building highways and roads. Nearly half of the $48 billion in stimulus money for transportation projects will go toward rail, buses and other non-highway projects, including $1.3 billion for Amtrak and its successful rapid rail service, Acela. The Transportation Department also would receive $2 billion more under Obama's proposed 2010 budget, most of it for rail and aviation.

The money ($8 billion in stimulus money and $5 billion more over the next five years in the administration's proposed transportation budget) represents the first major step toward establishing a genuine high-speed train network in the United States and has sparked a stampede among states, advocacy groups and lobbyists who are not accustomed to this level of funding.

But experts and government officials caution that despite the billions, the amounts are still not nearly enough to pay for the kind of sleek "bullet train" systems that crisscross Europe and Japan at speeds of 200 mph or higher. The California project, for example, would cost an estimated $45 billion, including $9 billion in state bonds that voters approved last year."

"It sounds like a lot of money to Americans, but it's really just a start," said James P. RePass, president of the National Corridors Initiative, a nonprofit rail advocacy group.

"The next step is doling out the money. The Federal Railroad Administration, which distributed $30 million for similar grants last year, is scrambling to develop guidelines for the program within the next six weeks, officials said."

Thomas Simpson, executive director of the Railway Supply Institute, which represents companies that build and maintain rail lines, said the Obama administration faces a choice between spreading the $8 billion around the country or focusing on a few large-scale projects to serve as showcases for high-speed rail. He noted that France's storied TGV high-speed rail service began in 1981 with a single line, between Paris and Lyon."

Thanks to David Underwood

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Published on Sunday, March 8, 2009 in Washington Post
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