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April 18, 2009
Vol. 9 No. 17 - EXTRA

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

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NEWS OF THE WEEK... Extra Edition...


 

Cites Abraham Lincoln’s Support for Transcontinental Railroad

 

President Obama
President Obama Unveils Strategic Plan
To Bring High Speed Rail To America

By DF Staff

THE WHITE HOUSE --- Speaking at The White House to an invited audience of rail professionals, advocates, and key elected officials, President Barack Obama this week fulfilled a campaign promise to begin the rebuilding of America’s transportation infrastructure, starting with the long neglected rail sector of the economy.

Ten major corridors are being identified for potential high-speed rail projects, but the White House stressed that other corridors can be proposed, and considered for funding as well:

  • California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
  • South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
  • Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
  • Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville,)
  • Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
  • Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, , Savannah, Jacksonville)
  • Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
  • Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
  • Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

The Obama Plan is the most ambitious rail program announced by any President since Abraham Lincoln announced support in 1861 for a long-proposed Transcontinental Railroad (1862-1869, with most of the work done post-Civil War, 1866-1869). The program was announced by the President with the support of Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican Congressman from Peoria, Illinois who has been active in seeking improved rail service for the Chicago area.

President Obama’s High Speed Rail Plan identifies 10 initial corridors of 100-600 miles in length as potential routes for High Speed Rail, defined officially in the United States by the Federal Railroad Administration as a rail system able to operate speeds above 110 miles per hour.

It allocates $8 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus” Act”), as well as $5 billion in the regular budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting October 1, for the act. In addition, Amtrak will have $1.4 billion for capital projects in the coming fiscal year, which it will use to make up for the approximately $6 billion shortfall, identified by the Government Accounting Office some years ago, in capital investments on the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak largely owns and over which it operates its Northeast Regional (conventional equipment) and High Speed Rail Acela (Euro-style) service. The Acela is capable of 155 miles per hour but reaches those speeds only for short stretches on the Corridor, because capital funds for improvements to allow faster service have not been appropriated by Congress.

Much of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure is 80-100 years old. The overhead wires that power the trains, for example, were put up in 1906-12 (New York to New Haven) and the 1930’s (New York to Washington), and are of an old-fashioned design that can not withstand speeds much above 70 miles per hour without snapping. The State Connecticut, which through its Department of Transportation owns the heavily-traveled New Haven-New York segment used by Metro North commuter trains and by Amtrak, has been slowly replacing the old catenaries with newer designs for more than 10 years, using Metro North as its contractor, but us still far from finished; Connecticut’s failure to complete this project in a timely fashion is the reason why the Acela train crawls through Fairfield County at less than half the speed of which it is capable.

But the program announced yesterday at the White House goes far beyond the Northeast Corridor, and is designed to be a national program, and will be a competitively run and organized project of the Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA is at present designing the application regulations for the states seeking to build higher speed rail corridors, with the first grants FRA expected some time in August.

“This project is intelligently conceived,” stated National Corridors Initiative President Jim RePass, who attended the White House announcement Thursday. “It was made clear by the President – and we know this to be true from our 20 years of work toward achieving this day --- that America is playing catch-up to the rest of the world when it comes to ground transportation. With Europeans countries investing billions and billions of funds in High Speed Rail since the 1970’s, and with Japan and now the rest of Asia spending over $100 billion, the $13 billion directly related to this program will only be a start. Paying for the system in a way that makes sense – such as by value-capture of a portion of the economic growth that almost always follows intelligent transportation investment --- and other innovative cost recovery systems used elsewhere run the world, but virtually unknown here, will be one way to do that, as NCI has long-proposed,” said RePass.

“By requiring the states to propose competitively, it will be possible to select for initial construction those corridors which show the best payback, not just in terms of ridership --- Americans aren’t used to good train service except on the Northeast Corridor and parts of California and the Pacific Northwest, although where it is available, they do indeed take the train in droves --- but in terms of the economic development that results from rail investment,” said RePass.

The map displayed at the announcement, officials noted, is not prescriptive, that is, the corridors that might be developed, or even developed first, are not limited to those on the map; the map is “aspirational”, FRA official Paul Nissenbaum, who helped make the presentation Thursday along with Acting FRA Administrator Karen Rae, with much of the strategic plan devised by long-time FRA official Mark Yachmetz noted.

Actual corridors will be built based “on merit”, the President noted. The Obama HSR program is designed to do two specific things, the President said, to 1) improve existing service, and 2) identify and build corridors for high speed service.

To read the entire strategic plan and view the FRA aspirational corridor map, go to: http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/31

The White House Press Office statement on Thursday’s briefing is carried below, in full:


THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release   April 16, 2009

President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary LaHood
Call for U.S. High-Speed Passenger Trains

Vision for a New Era in Rail Entails Clean, Energy-Efficient Option for Travelers

 

President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Biden and Secretary LaHood, announced a new U.S. push today to transform travel in America, creating high-speed rail lines from city to city, reducing dependence on cars and planes and spurring economic development.

The President released a strategic plan outlining his vision for high-speed rail in America. The plan identifies $8 billion provided in the ARRA and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system and sets the direction of transportation policy for the future. The strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. By late summer, the Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding the first round of grants.

Additional funding for long-term planning and development is expected from legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs.

The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service.

With a boost from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration launched a competitive process to drive local communities to develop their high-speed rail potential. The President, Vice President and Secretary of Transportation are urging states and local communities to put together plans for a network of 100 mile to 600 mile corridors, which will compete for the federal dollars. The merit-driven process will result in federal grants as soon as late summer 2009.

President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail mirrors that of President Eisenhower, the father of the Interstate highway system, which revolutionized the way Americans traveled. Now, high-speed rail has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lower harmful carbon emissions, foster new economic development and give travelers more choices when it comes to moving around the country.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come,” said President Obama. “A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve. High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

“Today, we see clearly how Recovery Act funds and the Department of Transportation are building the platform for a brighter economic future - they’re creating jobs and making life better for communities everywhere,” said Vice President Biden. “Everyone knows railways are the best way to connect communities to each other, and as a daily rail commuter for over 35 years, this announcement is near and dear to my heart. Investing in a high-speed rail system will lower our dependence on foreign oil and the bill for a tank of gas; loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways; and significantly reduce the damage we do to our planet.”

“President Obama’s vision of robust, high-speed rail service offers Americans the kind of travel options that throughout our history have contributed to economic growth and enhanced quality of life,” said Secretary LaHood. “We simply can’t build the economy of the future on the transportation networks of the past.”

The plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail like the kind found in Europe and Japan. Another would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster.

Under the plan, high-speed rail development will advance along three funding tracks:

 

A Vision for High-Speed Rail in America
Highlights of Strategic Plan
April 16, 2009

 

This plan outlines the President’s vision to build a network of high-speed rail corridors across America. It is the first high-speed rail requirement under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 0f 2009 (ARRA).

Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston) to compete for funds for improvements to the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.


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