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High Speed Passenger Rail

Vision for High Speed Rail
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President Obama’s high-speed passenger rail strategic plan will help address the Nation’s transportation challenges by investing in an efficient, high-speed passenger rail network of 100- to 600-mile intercity corridors that connect communities across America.

This plan lays the foundation for that network by investing in intercity rail infrastructure, equipment and intermodal connections, beginning with an $8 billion down payment provided under ARRA, and continuing with a high-speed rail grant program of $1 billion per year (as called for in the President’s FY2010 budget proposal). These first steps emphasize strategic investments that will yield tangible benefits to intercity rail infrastructure, equipment, performance, and intermodal connections over the next several years, while also creating a “pipeline” of projects to enable future corridor development.

President Obama’s strategy for high-speed passenger rail

ARRA directs funds toward projects that will aid in near-term economic recovery, while laying a foundation for longer-term economic stability and competitiveness. In order to meet the goals of the Recovery Act while initiating a transformational new program, high-speed rail development will advance along three funding “tracks”:

  1. Individual Projects. Providing grants to complete individual projects that are “ready to go” with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work – with an emphasis on near term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities and equipment.
  2. Corridor programs. Developing entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives.
  3. Planning. Entering into cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non ARRA appropriations funds. This third approach is intended to help establish a structured mechanism and funding stream for future corridor development activities.

WSDOT is well-prepared to compete for a significant portion of the $8 billion  for high-speed passenger rail. Over 40 capital rail projects are proposed, funded, and/or underway to support Washington State’s intercity passenger rail program. WSDOT Rail projects have been identified based on the findings outlined in the Long Range Plan (pdf) for Amtrak Cascades (completed February 2006) and the Amtrak Cascades Mid-Range Plan (pdf, completed December 2008), as well as regulatory requirements such as Positive Train Control (PTC).

How does Washington State qualify for high-speed passenger rail stimulus funds?

April 2009 marked 15 years of state supported passenger rail service in the state of Washington. From its modest grass roots beginnings to the development of the Amtrak Cascades service, Washington State has been a national leader in intercity passenger rail service.

In 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) designated the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor (Vancouver, BC – Eugene, OR) as one of five high speed rail corridors in the United States. This designation elevated our region to be eligible to compete for federal funds to assist the state with planning and implementing improved passenger and freight rail service throughout the corridor. Today, there are a total of 11 federally designated high speed rail corridors that qualify under President Obama’s plan.

Photo of Amtrak Cascades TrainSince 1994, Washington State has been supporting an intercity passenger rail service along the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. In 1999, the new Amtrak Cascades service debuted, featuring new custom-built Talgo trains and improved customer service, amenities, and accessibility. The service is sponsored by Amtrak and the states of Washington and Oregon and has carried over six million passengers since 1999.

What are the next steps?

The detailed application guidance to be issued by June 17, 2009, will provide specific instructions for application and the competitive selection process for the $8 billion for high-speed passenger rail. WSDOT is preparing its list of capital rail projects (pdf 266 KB) to submit for the application process and intends to seek structured input from stakeholders and the public in the process of developing the application.

The high-speed rail grant program of $1 billion per year application criteria is expected to be published by May 18. Application submissions are scheduled to be made by August 16, and USDOT will select projects by February 17, 2010. WSDOT will also submit projects under this funding program as well.

Benefits of Passenger Rail

Rail is well positioned to address many of the Nation’s strategic transportation goals:

  • Safe and efficient transportation options. Rail is a cost-effective means for serving transportation needs in congested intercity corridors. In many cases, modest investment on existing rights-of-way can result in high-speed rail (HSR) and intercity passenger rail (IPR) service with highly competitive trip times, while also providing ancillary benefits to energy-efficient freight rail service.
  • Foundation for economic competitiveness. America’s transportation system is the lifeblood of the economy. Providing a robust rail network can help serve the needs of national and regional commerce in a cost-effective, resource-efficient manner, by offering travelers convenient access to economic centers.
  • Energy efficiency and environmental quality. Rail is already among the cleanest and most energy-efficient of the passenger transportation modes. Rail contributes less CO2 to the atmosphere per passenger mile traveled than do cars or airplanes—about 14%–15% less than cars and nearly 40% less than air travel.
  • Interconnected livable communities. Rail transport has generally been associated with “smart growth” because it can foster higher-density development than has typically been associated with highways and airports. Rail is uniquely capable of providing both high-speed intercity transportation and its own efficient local access and egress system.

Share your thoughts, we want your feedback on the future of High Speed Rail.

Last revised on June 17, 2009