February 1, 2010
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|IN DEPTH: HIGH-SPEED RAIL
Winners and Future Winners in High-Speed Rail
BY JOHN HORSLEY, Executive Director, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
A world-class system of high-speed and intercity passenger rail in America is no longer just a hope. It is real. It is here. Its success is critical to transforming transportation in our lifetime.
As Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Joe Szabo has said, the upcoming announcement of the grant awards of some $8 billion in economic recovery funding is only a “down payment” on a permanent program for investment in passenger rail. Regardless of which routes are first to get awards, there will not be winners and losers.
There will be winners and future winners.
We are on the verge of establishing a passenger rail program similar to the interstate highway program. What happens this year is the beginning, not the end, of the trip that all of those who support the best possible transportation for Americans will be making over the coming decades.
State DOTs have spearheaded the effort to develop and fund a national intercity passenger rail system for the past decade. They have planned, financed, and delivered successful intercity passenger rail service.
A few great examples include:
* Nearly 750,000 passengers ride the seven daily round trips between Milwaukee and Chicago on the Hiawatha service operated by Amtrak and sponsored by the Wisconsin and Illinois DOTs;
* In Southern California, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service—operating between San Diego and San Luis Obispo—carried more than 2.89 million passengers in 2008;
* In Northern California, more than 1.69 million passengers rode the Capitol Corridor service, Auburn to San Jose;
* In the Pacific Northwest, ridership on the Amtrak Cascades service from Eugene, OR, to Vancouver, BC, equaled 760,323 passengers;
* Amtrak’s Keystone Service, which operates among Harrisburg, PA; Philadelphia; and New York City, surpassed one million passengers in 2008; and
* Collectively, the North Carolina state-supported Carolinian and Piedmont services carried 361,368 passengers.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the States for Passenger Rail Coalition have also urged the federal government to support the creation of an integrated, fully funded intercity passenger rail system as an essential element of the nation’s surface transportation system.
Congress and the executive branch are developing a new and solid consensus in support of an intercity passenger rail system to meet the mobility needs of the 21st century. The most important activities include:
> The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which authorized $1.9 billion over five years for grants to states for intercity passenger rail capital grants, including $1.5 billion for high-speed rail corridor development and $325 million for rail congestion grants. The legislation also required states to develop a comprehensive rail plan for both passengers and freight and required FRA to develop a long-range national rail plan based on the state plans;
> The provision of $8 billion for high speed and intercity passenger rail in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Action of 2009. Thirty-eight states—the eligible applicants—submitted proposals totaling $57 billion for these funds;
> The Obama administration’s Vision for High-Speed Rail in America, which provides a broad, long-term view of how to provide passenger rail service to American travelers; and
> Enactment of a Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation of $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail capital grants.
AASHTO is pleased that Congress designated the states to be the recipients of these high-speed and intercity passenger rail funds. These actions put the states at the forefront of the effort to forge the future of high-speed and intercity passenger rail service in the U.S.
AASHTO believes it is “…time for the United States to provide a robust intercity passenger rail network that provides competitive, reliable, and frequent passenger service, comparable to world-class systems in other countries.”
As part of the surface transportation authorization bill recommendations to Congress, the states have called for creation of an Intercity Passenger Rail Account—funded at $50 billion over six years from a diversified portfolio of new revenue—to provide dedicated, guaranteed funding to states to meet their needs for capital improvements.
With the greatly increased responsibility that states are assuming for passenger rail, AASHTO is developing an AASHTO Rail Resource Center to deliver technical and functional support to states for both passenger and freight planning.
The long-sought vision of a world-class high-speed and intercity passenger rail network is dawning. State transportation officials are working to make it a reality.