On April 16, 2009, President Obama unveiled his new High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan.  Until this year, rail transportation has received less than three percent of all federal investment in intercity transportation infrastructure and the Northeast has the nation’s only high-speed rail corridor. In contrast, throughout the 20th century the United States has invested $1.8 trillion in our highway and aviation infrastructure.  Now however, with oil prices climbing and mounting concern over climate change, investing in public infrastructure solely to support cars and planes in no longer sustainable.  As President Obama’s Plan states, “a new approach is needed–one that responds to today’s economic, energy, and environmental challenges.”  Railroads offer a solution as they can reduce pollution and congestion and efficiently transport people and goods between cities. 

 

    

     The chart below shows the relative advantages of air, rail, and highway transportation based on population density and distance between cities.

 

Intercity Distance in Miles

0-100

100-600

600-3000

Population Density

Light

1) Auto

1) Auto

2) Conventional Rail

1) Auto

2) Air

Moderate

1) Auto

2) Commuter Rail

1) High-speed Rail

2) Auto

1) Auto

2) Air

High

1) Commuter Rail

2) Auto

1) High-speed Rail

2) Air

1) Air

     The Strategic Plan identifies ten potential high-speed rail corridors.

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

     The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) appropriates $8 billion in funding for passenger railroads.  Additionally, President Obama has promised a $5 billion commitment to high-speed rail over the next five years. 

     The Department of Transportation (DOT) has established three tracks for projects to receive ARRA funds. The first is for projects that are “shovel ready”, primarily intercity passenger rail projects and congestion reduction projects. The second track is for corridor development programs, a preliminary step for high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail projects. The third track is for planning activities, including the development of corridor plans. The DOT will issue guidance on the application process on June 17, 2009 and expects to begin awarding its first grants at the end of the summer.