High Speed Rail Funding

$8 billion for 13 high-speed rail projects
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will give $8 billion in economic stimulus money to 13 U.S. rail corridors today, Jan. 28, mostly for high-speed passenger service, reports Angela Greiling Keane for Bloomberg News.

 

The funds, the biggest single U.S. investment in high-speed rail, will be announced by Obama in Tampa, Fla., around 1 p.m. Jan. 28. He will be joined by Vice President Biden.

Announcements by Obama administration officials will also be made at events in Columbus, Ohio; Durham, N.C.; Milwaukee; St. Louis; and Philadelphia.

In all, 31 states will benefit, and a small portion of the $8 billion will go to improvements in existing rail lines, according to an Obama administration official.

These stimulus funds are aimed at creating jobs, as Obama indicated during his State of the Union message Jan. 27.

The rail spending “will yield significant benefits to the states and regions that receive the funds in the short-term, including job creation, particularly in the construction sector,” said Peter Gertler, high-speed rail services chairman for engineering firm HNTB Corp.

States receiving funds will “implement track improvements, grade separation, signal improvements and other tasks that need to be completed to deliver a high-speed rail system,” Gertler said.

Spreading the $8 billion among 31 states means no corridor will get enough to fully fund the creation of high-speed rail service, Ron Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said.

“You really don’t have enough money to really do anything other than lots of surveys, maybe some land acquisition, engineering studies and all that sort of stuff,” Utt said. “Unless more federal money is forthcoming in the future, these places are still going to struggle for resources because the states are in even worse condition than the federal government.”

The Federal Railroad Administration said it received 45 applications requesting $50 billion in aid, and delayed the awards from last year to handle a greater number of requests than expected.

In addition to Florida, leading contenders for funds include Illinois, California and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs between Boston, New York and Washington, said Clint Currie, an analyst for Concept Capital’s Washington Research Group.

Companies that manufacture train and rail components may benefit from the spending. General Electric Co. and Siemens AG are among 32 manufacturers that pledged last year, at the behest of DOT to establish U.S. rail-manufacturing operations or expand their domestic workforce if they get some of the rail funding. States will allocate after they receive it.

JR Central, which owns Japan’s largest maker of high-speed bullet trains, and Hitachi are among Japanese companies that have begun targeting export sales, including to the U.S.     

GE, the world’s biggest maker of freight locomotives, is developing engines for passenger trains that could operate at 124 mph, said Stephan Koller, a spokesman for the Fairfield, Conn.-based company’s transportation unit. GE announced a partnership with China’s Ministry of Railways in November to manufacture equipment for high-speed rail projects in the U.S.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood jolted Florida’s effort to win U.S. funds for a Tampa-Orlando-Miami high-speed rail line in October, faulting state lawmakers in a speech for failing to provide money for a proposed Orlando-area link and an existing South Florida commuter rail system that was running short of funds when they passed the state’s 2010 budget in May.

“You’ve got to get your act together,” LaHood told the Orlando Sentinel, referring to the state Senate, which hadn’t included rail funds in its version of the budget. “If they don’t,” the paper quoted LaHood as saying, “there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people.”

The comments prompted Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, and legislators to call a special session in December that authorized $432 million to buy 61 miles of freight-rail track owned by CSX for the Orlando-area line, called SunRail.

It also provided the TriRail commuter system from West Palm Beach to Miami with $15 million annually and created the Florida Statewide Rail Commission and Florida Rail Enterprise to advise and oversee new passenger rail systems.

Two days after the legislation passed on Dec. 8, Crist wrote LaHood urging him to approve Florida’s application for federal rail funds.

(The preceding article was published by Bloomberg News.)