The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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February 1, 2010
Vol. 11 No. 6

Copyright © 2010
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved
Our 11th Newsletter Year

This E-Zine is best viewed at
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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
High-Speed Rail Is In America’s Future
President Obama Nominates Candidates For Amtrak’s Board,
  Safety Lines…
MBTA Hails Lowest Crime Rate In Decades
  Personnel Lines…
New Jersey Transit Hires New Executive Director
  Selected Rail Stocks…
Urban Pathways To Liveable Communities
  Across The Pond…
Iraq Searches For Rail System Builder And Operator
Deutsche Bahn Selects Siemens Mobility To Develop
   Next-Generation Of Intercity Trains
FRA “High-Speed Rail” Grants Are A Political Balancing Act,
   But They Should Improve Our Rail Service
  Publication Notes …

NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

It’s Official:


High-Speed Rail Is In America’s Future

By DF Staff

TAMPA --- Whenever Joe Biden and Barack Obama appear together at a public event, watch out --- there’s likely to be rail involved.

Last Thursday at Tampa, there was $8 billion worth of rail involved, as almost exactly one year to the day after Congress voted approval of the President’s Stimulus Package --- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) --- President Obama and Vice President Biden announced the awarding of funds needed to start laying the groundwork for America’s first true High Speed Rail System.

“These dollars represent an historic investment in the country’s transportation infrastructure, which will help create jobs and transform travel in America,” the White House said in revealing for the first time the details of the grant program. “The announcement is one of a number of job initiatives the President will lay out in the coming weeks that follow up on the continued commitment to job creation he discussed in the State of the Union Address.”

A full list of the awards can be viewed at:

The distribution of the ARRA Phase I funds followed a pattern that rewarded planning work and organizational efforts, as well as the willingness of regions or states to tax themselves to contribute to the program. While ARRA rail stimulus money is “100% money” --- no local or state match is required by law, strictly speaking --- the Federal Government looked closely at the degree of local support for rail as evidenced by a willingness to commit dollars.

It is therefore no surprise that the three largest awards went to the West at $2,942,000,000 (with California getting $2,334.000,000 of that and the rest, $598,000, 000 to the Eugene-Portland-Seattle Corridor), the Midwest at $2,599,600,000 and the Southeast at $1,870,000,000 (with Florida getting $1,250,000,000 of that, and the rest, $620 million, going to the Charlotte-Richmond-Washington Corridor).

The Northeast received only $485 million --- although it has begun to coordinate rail planning and is beginning to consider the creation of a regional rail authority similar to the successful nine-state Midwestern coalition, whose nearly $2.6 billion Rail Stimulus allocation dwarfs the Northeast’s allocation by a ratio of a little more than 5:1 (although separate funding for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to repair/refurbish ancient infrastructure will reduce that imbalance somewhat).

The South, where Louisiana Governor Bobbi Jindal spiked his state’s application $110 million for the Baton Rouge – New Orleans rail corridor project, which would have become the foundation for the Houston-New Orleans-Atlanta Corridor designated by the Federal Government as an eligible high speed rail route in 1998, got nothing, although it retains existing Amtrak service.

Texas, which failed to coordinate its three locally-supported but therefore competing intercity corridor projects into a comprehensive state-wide application, also got nothing, except for a $4 million grant for the Fort Worth area to improve Amtrak’s Texas Eagle’s on-time performance.

The West

California, under the determined leadership of California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Emeritus Rod Diridon, and present Chairman Quentin Kopp, has proposed an ambitious Euro-style 220-mph High Speed Rail system linking Los Angeles with San Francisco, and has voted to bond for $9.95 billion to help pay for it.

The Eugene-Portland-Seattle [-Vancouver, CA] Cascadia Corridor, the long time project of Bruce Chapman of Seattle’s Discovery Institute and his Cascadia rail project manager Bruce Agnew, is thanks to their leadership already a success but will now get $598,000,000 to raise track speeds and give better on-time performance for its unique (to America) Talgo Trains, for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, and for other service to come.

The Midwest

The nine-state Midwest Region, whose high speed rail effort was spurred over the past two decades by activists such as Howard Learner and Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Rick Harnish, President of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, and many others throughout the Midwest, got a whopping $2,599,600 for rail corridors throughout the region.

One of the first to be built will be St. Louis-Chicago corridor, whose completion will significantly reduce the air traffic load at O’Hare and Midway airports, and along with the completion or upgrading of other key rail routes (Chicago-Milwaukee; Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-Cleveland) enable Illinois to cancel plans for a third major Chicago-area airport, avoiding $8-$10 Billion in estimated cost and a decade or more of disruption to a large section of the Chicago region, and give relief to the millions of people who live near the proposed new airport or under the planes’ prospective flight paths, whose quality of life would have been destroyed.

The Southeast

Florida has come closer than other states over the years to actually launch a High Speed Rail Project. But former Florida Governor Jeb Bush killed a ready-to-go project the day after he was inaugurated in 1999, a setback seen by infrastructure specialists as damaging not only to congested Florida, but to the nation’s economic future.

However, local voter support for rail was so strong that activist “Doc” Dockery, a Republican and self-made millionaire, spent $3 million of his own money to get a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot literally requiring Florida to build a High Speed Rail system. Taxpayers, rejecting then-Gov. Bush’s and his anti-rail allies’ vocal opposition, approved the amendment in 2000, but the virulently anti-rail Bush team got a repeal measure placed on the ballot again, and then outspent Dockery --- who is only a private citizen, and had spent a big chunk of his self-made fortune on the first pro-rail campaign in 2000 --- to get the repeal approved in 2004, once again setting back progress on modern rail infrastructure for Florida.

At Thursday’s speech by the President, Doc Dockery, a lifelong Republican whose activism shows the depth of bi-partisan support for rail, said of Barack Obama, “Thank God for this visionary president who got us here. I’m absolutely ecstatic. It’s a culmination of everything I’ve worked for 28 years.” (quoted in The St. Petersburg Times January 29, 2010). Dockery is now 76 years old, and plans to “hold on for at least four years” so that he can ride the first train.

The Northeast

The Northeast region, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and the six New England states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, received a total of $485 million. Aside from the South, which applied for and got nothing, that was the smallest allocation.

“New England needs to speak with one voice” to do better in Round II of the Stimulus Program [if one is voted by Congress], commented a Federal official who is close to the Federal rail program, in commenting on the disparity in grant allocations. He spoke to Destination:Freedom on condition of anonymity.

“Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future,” said President Obama on Thursday. “That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.”

“By investing in high speed rail, we’re doing so many good things for our country at the same time,” said Vice President Biden.  “We’re creating good construction and manufacturing jobs in the near-term; we’re spurring economic development in the future; we’re making our communities more livable—and we’re doing it all while decreasing America’s environmental impact and increasing America’s ability to compete in the world.”

NCI President James P. RePass, whose National Corridors Initiative’s corridor-based model for implementing High Speed Rail in America was adopted by candidate Obama , who met with NCI Chairman John Robert Smith in 2008, and was then funded by the Congress under President Obama’s leadership in 2009, said in commenting on the week’s events:

“We are incredibly gratified that after nearly 21 years of intensive, expensive, bootstrap-funded work on behalf of infrastructure investment, especially the long-neglected rail system, that NCI and its fellow advocates across the country have reached a point where we can at last begin the hard work of rebuilding America’s rail system and making our country competitive, and not simply talk about doing it.”

“We note that these projects have broad bi-partisan support, another hopeful sign in an era where politics has become practically toxic. Perhaps, as together we build our country back up, we can once again learn to talk across the aisle, as the President did last week, and end the demonizing and incivility that the extremists in both parties have caused.”

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The White House
Office Of The Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
January 28, 2010


President Obama, Vice President Biden To Announce $8 Billion
For High-Speed Rail Projects Across The Country

Projects Will Help Create Construction Jobs,
Revitalize U.S. Manufacturing Sector

Tampa, FL – President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will today announce that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is awarding $8 billion to states across the country to develop America’s first nationwide program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service.  Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), these dollars represent an historic investment in the country’s transportation infrastructure, which will help create jobs and transform travel in America.  The announcement is one of a number of job initiatives the President will lay out in the coming weeks that follow up on the continued commitment to job creation he discussed in last night’s State of the Union Address. 

“Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future,” said President Obama. “That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.”

“By investing in high speed rail, we’re doing so many good things for our country at the same time,” said Vice President Biden.  We’re creating good construction and manufacturing jobs in the near-term; we’re spurring economic development in the future; we’re making our communities more livable—and we’re doing it all while decreasing America’s environmental impact and increasing America’s ability to compete in the world.”

Today’s awards will serve as a down payment on developing or laying the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high-speed rail corridors across the country.  The major corridors are part of a total of 31 states receiving investments, including smaller projects and planning work that will help lay the groundwork for future high-speed intercity rail service.   The grants are not only expected to have an up-front job and economic impact, but help spur economic growth in communities across the country, provide faster and more energy-efficient means of travel, and establish a new industry in the U.S. that provides stable, well-paid jobs. 

This historic $8 billion investment is expected to create or save tens of thousands of jobs over time in areas like track-laying, manufacturing, planning and engineering, and rail maintenance and operations.  Over 30 rail manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, have agreed to establish or expand their base of operations in the United States if they are hired to build America’s next generation high-speed rail lines – a commitment the Administration secured to help ensure new jobs are created here at home.

“The President’s bold vision for high-speed rail is a game changer,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s not only going to create good jobs and reinvigorate our manufacturing base, it’s also going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and help create livable communities.  I have no doubt that building the next generation of rail service in this country will help change our society for the better.”

The majority of the dollars announced today will go toward developing new, large-scale high-speed rail programs.  This includes projects in Florida, which is receiving up to $1.25 billion to develop a new high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando with trains running up to 168 miles per hour, and in California, which is receiving up to $2.25 billion for its planned project to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between with trains running up to 220 miles per hour.

In April 2009, the Administration released a long-term plan ( for high-speed rail in America. In addition to the $8 billion awarded today, the plan also included $1 billion a year for five years in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start the program.  Applicants submitted over $55 billion in project proposals for the initial $8 billion in funds awarded today. 

Obama Administration officials are traveling across the country this week to announce funding for the high-speed rail projects and discuss how this investment will create local jobs and rebuild the economy.  Today, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson will travel to Durham, North Carolina, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis will visit Columbus, Ohio and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will hold an event in Washington, DC, Executive Director of the White House Council on Auto Communities and Workers Ed Montgomery will visit St. Louis, Missouri and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo will be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  On Friday, a senior Department of Transportation official will travel to California and FRA Administrator Szabo will hold an event in Chicago, Illinois.

For further details on the major corridor projects, click here:



Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City– louis-kansas-city.PDF

Madison – Milqaukee – Chicago –

Charlotte – Raleigh – Richmond – Washinton DC–

Eugene – Portland – Seattle–

Detroit – Chicago –

Ohio –


To learn more about the story of the Recovery Act, visit  To follow Recovery Act dollars,

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President Obama Nominates Candidates
For Amtrak’s Board, NTSB And NLRB

From The White House And Amtak News

On Jan. 20, President Obama announced his nomination of Jeffrey Moreland as an Amtrak board member for a five-year term.

In 2007, Moreland was most recently Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), where he oversaw economic regulatory policy and state government relations as well as corporate communications.

He worked eight years at the Securities and Exchange Commission before joining Santa Fe Railroad in 1978, the White House said. He became general counsel there in 1988, and in 1994 became Vice President for Law and General Counsel of the parent company, Santa Fe Pacific. It later merged with Burlington Northern to form BNSF.

Amtrak is poised to participate in billions of dollars of government stimulus grants to expand inter-city passenger rail service, much of which will come by running more passenger trains on tracks owned by freight railroads.

Amtrak’s nine-member board currently has four vacancies. President Obama previously nominated Anthony Coscia and Bert DiClemente for board seats; their nominations, along with Moreland’s, await Senate confirmation.

The president also nominated Earl Weener as a National Transportation Safety Board member to serve the remainder of Mark Rosenker’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2010. Rosenker resigned from the board last year.

Weener, who retired from Boeing in 1999, is a Fellow at the Flight Safety Foundation.

In addition, the president re-nominated Craig Becker as a National Labor Relations Board member for a five-year term. Obama had nominated Becker - currently Associate General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO - for the post last year.

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SAFETYLINES... Safety Lines...  

MBTA Hails Lowest Crime Rate In Decades

Boston Herald On The Internet

BOSTON, JANUARY 26 --The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) reported that efforts to reduce crime during the last three decades have been dramatically successful.

The use of closed-circuit TV surveillance, public awareness campaigns, and additional Transit Police at the gates to catch fare evaders have “helped stop crime in its tracks,” reported the newspaper.

“When we stop people for fare evasion, one out of 10 has a warrant for their arrest,” said MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan. “So we not only view it as a fare evasion strategy but as a crime-prevention strategy as well.”

MacMillan reported that the number of serious crimes have dropped in number by 2,500 since 1980 and, in just one year, from 2008 to 2009, crimes decreased by 21 percent.

Larcenies had the most significant decrease, dropping 26 percent from 701 to 522 in the past year thanks to awareness campaigns warning about the thefts of iPods, iPhones and other cell phones.

Aggravated assaults fell from 103 to 88, as Transit Police relied on closed-circuit TVs at “most of the busiest stations” to watch for suspicious-looking people and nab the offenders.

“We don’t always catch them in the act, but in time we will capture their image on a video and we will use that to be able to identify our offenders and prosecute them,” MacMillan said.

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PERSONNELLINES... Personnel Lines...  

New Jersey Transit Hires New Executive Director

By David Peter Alan

NEWARK, JANUARY 28 --The Board Room at New Jersey Transit’s Newark Headquarters had an eerie, empty feeling. No Board members were present in person; they were all on the phone. Only two senior managers from NJT were present; the Controller and the head of the Legal department. Chairs were set out for a large audience in the customary manner, but only three people came to make statements, and there were no reporters from the local papers. Nonetheless, Board secretaries attended to their duties as if a “regular” Board meeting were going on, despite the empty chairs that crowded the room.

The occasion was a special meeting of the NJT Board held last Thursday, January 28th, for the sole purpose of hiring James Weinstein as the new Executive Director at NJT. Weinstein had been Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation from 1998 to 2002, during the last Republican administration in the State. He had been active on Governor Chris Christie’s transition team as a transportation advisor.

Weinstein started on the job last Saturday, January 30th, taking over from Richard Sarles, who has not announced his future plans. Sarles succeeded to the post in 2007 when his predecessor, George Warrington, resigned due to ill health. Warrington had strong ties to the Democrats, who controlled the administration in Trenton at the time. Rail advocates, including Zoe Baldwin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and William R. Wright of the North Jersey Transportation Advisory Committee, have criticized the custom of replacing the Executive Director of NJT whenever political change comes to Trenton.

Weinstein will receive a salary of $261,324 during his first year, an amount nearly 50% higher than the salary paid to the Transportation Commissioner, who also serves as Chair of the NJT Board. He will also be eligible for incentive raises and receive customary fringe benefits. His contract is open-ended and renewable every year.

Three persons showed up to make statements welcoming Weinstein back to NJT; this writer and rail advocate James T. Raleigh, along with Daniel J. O’Connell, head of the United Transportation Union in New Jersey. The UTU represents operating crews and other workers on the rail side of NJT. Raleigh is President of the Friends of Monmouth Battlefield and Chair of the Political Committee of the Lackawanna Coalition. Their statements noted the importance of rail labor and citizen advocates on the transportation scene and offered to work with the new head of NJT to improve transit where possible and minimize the negative impacts of expected service cuts.

Christie campaigned on a promise of reduced State spending and has promised that there will be no increase in New Jersey’s gasoline tax in the foreseeable future, although it has not been raised since 1988. Transit riders will not be as lucky as motorists and truckers. A fare increase by July 1st is almost certain, and riders are bracing for severe service cuts throughout the NJT system.

Part of Weinstein’s compensation includes an automobile that NJT will give him. With the cuts in transit that almost everyone expects him to implement, he will need it!

David Peter Alan is Chair of the Lackawanna Coalition and one of the few attendees at the NJT Board meeting last week.

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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...


Week (*)
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)99.7399.11
Canadian National (CNI)49.9352.26
Canadian Pacific (CP)47.0050.67
CSX (CSX)42.8644.12
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)29.4730.17
Kansas City Southern (KSU)29.7031.01
Norfolk Southern (NSC)47.0649.65
Providence & Worcester (PWX)11.5112.20
Union Pacific (UNP)60.5063.85

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EVENTS... Events...


Urban Pathways To
Liveable Communities

Building Partnerships For
Healthy Neighborhoods

Feb. 25 & 26, 2010
New Orleans, LA


Click Here For
More Information


Day #1 attendees are invitation-only and must request an invitation from Rails-to-Trails on their website. See link immediately above.

Day #2 attendees should register with NCI
(name, title, affiliation, address, phone, email)
and mail a check for $90.00 to:

NCI Connecticut Office
c/o M. McKay
8 Riverbend Drive, Mystic, CT. 06355

Sorry... we no longer accept credit cards
because of high fees.

PayPal Services Pending

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ACROSSTHEPOND... Across The Pond...  

By David Beale, Foreign Editor


Iraq Searches For Rail System
Builder And Operator

War-Torn Country Looks Towards Expanding Gulf Region Rail Network

Via HAZ Newspaper

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi transportation ministry dusted off plans from the early 1980s for a circle-shaped rail network all around Baghdad’s outer city limits and suburbs. The ministry took one week to develop and issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) to a number of foreign rail firms for construction and operational support of the proposed US $3 billion commuter rail system. It will form a center of a rebuilt and expanded Iraqi rail network. The ministry envisions that construction of the circular rail line around Baghdad will take approximately four years.

Iraq has a mostly standard gauge rail system that stretches from border crossings in Syria and Turkey to the port city of Basra on the Persian Gulf. There are currently no functioning rail connections with neighboring countries other than Turkey and Syria, but rail links are planned to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is participating with several other Gulf States in expanding the rail network in the Arabian Peninsula, including new fast passenger trains (160 – 200 km/h speeds). In theory Iraq could help complete a standard gauge rail network stretching all across the Middle East – from Istanbul, Turkey (on the boarder with Europe) to the Iranian borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the southeastern part of the region and to Oman and the UAE in the south. The rail network in Pakistan is mostly 1676 mm broad gauge, identical to neighboring India, while Afghanistan currently has no functional rail lines.

An Iraqi passenger train runs through Sudyar City, Iraq in April 2008

Photo by anonymous member of the US Armed Forces

An Iraqi passenger train runs through Sudyar City, Iraq in April 2008. The locomotive was produced in China and is similar in design to the China Railways DF4 series of diesel-electric locomotives.

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Deutsche Bahn Selects Siemens Mobility To Develop
Next-Generation Of Intercity Trains

ICx – The Long Anticipated Plan To Acquire Replacements
For Existing IC/EC Fleets Takes A Step Forward

Via “Die Welt” Newspaper

BERLIN – Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) announced this past Monday (25th January 2010) that the rail company and logistics firm has decided to work with Siemens Mobility on developing a new series of intercity passenger trains which will replace the existing fleet of locomotive-hauled IC / EC rolling stock. The existing IC / EC rolling stock consists of a diverse fleet of nearly two thousand 2nd class, 1st class and restaurant cars ranging in age from 20 years to 35 years in dozens of configurations built by six or more car builders across central and eastern Europe. Although most of the rolling stock went through a significant updating and modernization program in the past ten years, much of the fleet will reach the end of its useful life in the next decade, and significant numbers of cars are still not fully accessible to physically handicapped persons or wheel-chair users.

The new train series will have the initial product name “ICx” and will be designed on a common platform. The value of the agreement is estimated at EUR 5 to EUR 6 billion (US $ 7.0 to 8.4 billion) although the exact number of trains to be purchased is not fully defined, it will be in the 300 unit range. Initial services are planned to begin in 2020, when the ICx series trains will start replacing existing locomotive-hauled IC/EC stock. Later high-speed versions of the ICx train-set series will also begin to replace ICE-1 and ICE-2 high-speed train sets, which will be in the 30 – 35 year-old range after 2025 and therefore reaching the end of their useful lives.

Exact configuration of the ICx series is not yet firmly defined, but will possibly be in fixed train-set EMU layout similar to the current ICE-3 and ICE-T train-sets (i.e. without separate locomotives) but available in various lengths for serving routes with different passenger loads. Some industry experts believe that a train set with a locomotive or power car is still a possible configuration for ICx trains, perhaps along the lines of RailJet in Austria or the former Metropolitan (MET) train-sets still in operation with Deutsche Bahn as ICE trains on the Berlin-Hamburg route, both of which consist of semi-permanently coupled rail coaches with a drivers cab at one end of the train and a locomotive coupled on the opposite end.

DBAG chief Dr. Rüdiger Grube and chairman Volker Kefer stated that the company expects and will demand top reliability and quality of the new train series during the design, development, test and production phases, in reference to a long series of technical issues which plagued the ICE-3 and ICE-T fleets including recent problems with the wheel axles. Siemens Mobility chief Hans-Jörg Grundmann stated that Siemens will target the ICx series to be the highest quality, safest and most energy-efficient trains on the market.

Despite much speculation and on-going rumors that the InterCity (IC) brand of trains in Germany will eventually be phased-out in favor of ICE or Regional Express trains (much of it started by on-the-record and off-the-record statements of previous DBAG management members), Dr. Grube stated that the company will continue to operate IC train services in the foreseeable future as it has for the past 50 years, albeit with new and different trains and optimized services to meet market conditions.

Photo: Deutsche Bahn AG.

A possible forerunner of ICx? The RailJet semi-fixed train-set series recently started operating within Austria with some destinations in Germany and Switzerland. An Austrian State Railways (ÖBB) RailJet train set with an ÖBB 1116 series Siemens EuroSprinter locomotive underwent certification testing for operations in Germany back in 2008 near Minden

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COMMENTARY... Commentary...  

FRA “High-Speed Rail” Grants Are A Political Balancing Act,

But They Should Improve Our Rail Service

By David Peter Alan

First Of A Series

Part I -- The FRA Does What It Can For High-Speed Rail

How many angels can balance on the head of a pin? You might ask Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo to help you answer this conundrum, which was first posed during the Middle Ages. The recently-announced FRA grants are part of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program, part of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The grants balance regions, political parties and even both sides in the current debate about the merits and methods of providing high-speed rail. According to the FRA, there were 259 grant applications from 37 states and the District of Columbia, requesting a total of $57 billion. Only 79 applications from 31 states were approved for the $8 billion available.

Certainly, President Obama deserves a great deal of credit for even saying that the nation needs more passenger rail service. We in the rail advocacy and management communities have known that for years, but no previous president in living memory has agreed publicly. President Obama surprised almost everybody last April with his call for high-speed rail, and the phrase has become an administration buzz-word. There is no dispute that the $8 billion in grants announced last week and the few billion more that will come over the next few years will pay for only a small fraction of the capital improvements that our rail system needs to develop into a first-class train network comprising both conventional and high-speed lines. In contrast, the $100 billion that has turned “GM” into “Government Motors” dwarfs the rail allocation by more than a factor of twelve and was almost double the amount actually requested through the HSIPR process. We can all imagine the sort of passenger rail system this nation could build if the entire $100 billion were spent on rail instead. Still, the President has endorsed rail and started political thought moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, back at the FRA, Joe Szabo, a career railroader, is much more practical. At an FRA-sponsored conference on the subject last June in Philadelphia (which this writer attended, along with D:F Publisher Jim RePass and Editor Molly McKay), Szabo acted more as a cheerleader for “higher-speed” rail, rather than for the sort of HSR operations now running in Europe, China and Japan. Szabo said that more could be done to speed up rail travel by increasing the “bottom speed” at which trains move, rather than the top speed. For the most part, he appeared to endorse the incremental approach. That was all he could do, since the entire grant program would not have been enough to build even a single line that would fully meet the standards endorsed by such HSR advocates as Rick Harnish in Chicago and Rod Diridon in California.

Still, Diridon’s vision got some vindication in the overall balancing act. California’s HSR program will get the largest grant, $2.25 billion or more than 28% of the total. Conventional rail improvements in the Golden State will only be funded with $100 million. California is the nation’s most populated state, and politically split (two Democratic Senators who support rail, and a Republican governor who has been under fire for taking money allocated for transit and using it for other purposes). The award to the Golden State reflects the political landscape of last summer, when Diridon’s HSR vision was popular, and recent revelations that the line would cost more than originally projected to build and to ride had not yet surfaced. Still, the California model is closer to true HSR than any existing rail operation in the country, and the grant program could not credibly carry the designation “high-speed rail” without expressing strong support for it.

Florida will get some high-speed rail, too. President Obama even mentioned it in his State of the Union speech last week. The program’s second-largest grant, $1.25 billion (more than 15% of the total) will be spent to build 84 miles of new line between Orlando and Tampa, essentially as a demonstration for “Phase I HSR” as the FRA termed it. Service between the Orlando area and the Miami area seems to be left to future decision-makers. Politically, a grant for Florida makes sense. The state’s voters approved a high-speed rail proposal years ago, only to have former Governor Jeb Bush (George’s brother) kill it. The current Governor, Charlie Christ, supports it, but he is locked in a primary battle with an anti-rail challenger for the Senate seat he seeks. It makes sense that, if the Democrats lose the Senate seat, they could work better with Christ than with his Republican primary opponent. Besides, the Obama-Biden ticket carried Florida in 2008, and giving the people a “deliverable” never hurts when it comes time for the re-election campaign. This may be especially important, since Florida was the battleground where Al Gore lost the election in 2000.

The grants for California’s and Florida’s HSR proposals total $3.5 billion, or 43.5% of the available funds. The largest grant for conventional rail, for upgrades to the line between Chicago and St. Louis, is smaller than the one that will develop only 84 miles of a new rail line in the Sunshine State. With the two largest grants going to the only two HSR projects under consideration, the FRA can claim that it is funding HSR to the best of its ability.

There is not much more that can be said about high-speed rail at the moment. There are no other plans for anything approaching true HSR lines in this country, so the other FRA grants had to fund incremental improvements on conventional rail lines. Ideally, our country should have an extensive network of conventional trains, both local and intercity, topped off by a connecting high-speed network that would meet European or Asian standards. As we all know, this will not happen anytime soon. The issue of whether or not HSR is cost-effective remains controversial, and some commentators (including this writer; see D:F, October 19, 2009) are not convinced that it is economically or politically feasible at this time.

So the political balancing act continues, and most regions of the country will get some improvement in the rail lines that serve them. Travel times for some city pairs will decrease, and states that have already begun to develop their rail corridors will be rewarded for their efforts. Wisconsin, Ohio and Maine are even slated to get new lines that will expand their rail maps. Needless to say, rail riders within those states will be winners, too. The next article in this series will focus on these “higher-speed rail” grants.

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END NOTES...  Publication Notes...

Copyright © 2010 National Corridors Initiative, Inc. as a compilation work and original content. Permission is granted to reproduce content provided acknowledgements to NCI are given. Return links to the NCI web site are encouraged and appreciated. Color Name Courtesy of Doug Alexander. Content reproduced by NCI remain the copyrights of the original publishers.

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In an effort to expand the on-line experience at the National Corridors Initiative web site, we have added a page featuring links to other transportation initiative sites. We hope to provide links to those cities or states that are working on rail transportation initiatives – state DOTs, legislators, government offices, and transportation organizations or professionals – as well as some links for travelers, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. If you have a favorite link, please send the web address (URL) to our webmaster.

Destination Freedom is partially funded by the Surdna Foundation, and other contributors.

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