UPDATE (04/28/09, 10:36 am): Petra Todorovich with the Regional Plan Association was interviewed on April 23, 2009 on Fox News in a segment on the President’s High Speed Rail Initiative (video embedded below). Also, the California High Speed Rail Authority has a number of videos about the state’s HSR proposal and HSR in general at its website.
President Obama unveiled a strategic plan for developing a high-speed rail system Thursday morning, according to the Washington Post. Obama stated, “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.”
High-speed rail received $8 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and President Obama has pledged an additional $5 billion over the next five years as part of the federal budget. The strategic plan is the first step toward distributing those funds, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will begin awarding contracts in late summer of this year.
Under the plan, high-speed rail funding will be advanced along three tracks: individual projects that are ready or almost ready, corridor development programs, and planning for future high-speed rail lines. The US Department of Transportation will issue eligibility requirements, application prerequisites, and evaluation criteria by June 17, and it will begin soliciting applications in August.
Currently, the US has only one “high-speed” rail line - the Amtrak Acela connecting the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston. While high-speed rail in Europe and Asia can exceed 200 miles per hour, Acela trains average just 80 miles per hour.
The FRA has identified ten potential high-speed rail routes in addition to the Northeast Corridor. Houston is part of the Gulf Coast Corridor, which would link the city to New Orleans and Atlanta. San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth would be included in a South Central Corridor connecting to cities in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Houston, the only major port for those cities, would not be connected to the corridor.
Separately, the Texas High-Speed Rail Corporation, led by former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, has called for a “Texas T-Bone” route connecting Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio by 2020. The T-Bone concept was developed by local and state officials working with stakeholders, and it has substantial political support. The FRA proposal, which would split the region into two different high-speed networks, could pose problems as a result, particularly since the FRA will be in charge of distributing federal funds.
However, federal legislation signed in October directed the Secretary of Transportation to study a proposal similar to the Texas T-Bone, which would add the Port of Houston to the South Central Corridor. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood must release his findings by October 2009.
Transcript of Obama’s statements on “A Vision for High Speed Rail.”
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