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High Speed Rail in the United States: Corridor Overview

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High Speed Rail in the United States: Corridor Overview

A map showing the current federally designated high speed rail corridors in the United States.

Federal Railroad Administration (http://www.fra.dot.gov/Pages/203.shtml)

High Speed Rail - Overview of United States Corridors

There are ten federally designated high speed rail corridors plus one existing corridor considered high speed.

The initial rail corridor considered high speed is the Amtrak Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C. Acela Express trains can achieve a top speed of 150 mph, but the average speed is around 80 mph. Although Amtrak desires funding to increase the average speed from 80 to 137 mph, this corridor is currently not designated to receive federal high speed rail funding.

The corridors currently designated to receive funding are, in clockwise order:

Northern New England : this corridor has three branches heading outwards from Boston towards Portland, Maine; Montreal, Quebec; and Albany, New York. As of April 11, 2011 little planning work has been done on this corridor.

Empire : this corridor would connect New York City to Buffalo, New York via Albany, New York. As of April 11, a New York State is currently in the scoping process of examining improving passenger train speeds between Schenectady and Niagara Falls to an average of 110 mph. Once the scoping process is over, the state will prepare a Tier I Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which examines broad planning perspectives. Once the Tier I EIS is approved, a more detailed Tier II EIS will be produced, which could eventually lead into rail capital improvements that increase operating speed in the corridor.

Keystone : this corridor would connect Philadelphia, Pennsylvania first to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and eventually to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2010, the state of Pennsylvania began an extensive planning and outreach program to examine how the Keystone Corridor, which provides Amtrak service between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, could be improved. Three goals were identified: one, achieve a top speed of 125 mph along the corridor; two, develop a "sealed" corridor with no grade crossings; and three, reduce running times on trains between the two cities by 20 minutes. Reducing running times in this matter would result in express trains taking only 1 hour 15 minutes to travel between the two cities. Currently it takes about 2 hours to travel between the two downtown areas. As of April 11, 2011, goal two, a precursor to any true high speed rail, is scheduled to be achieved by 2013.

Southeast : this corridor would initially connect Washington, D.C. to Raleigh, North Carolina and eventually extend down to Atlanta, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. In 2002 a Tier I EIS was completed for the corridor between Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, North Carolina. Near the end of last year a more detailed Tier II EIS was completed for the segment between Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina. The project envisions constructing about 100 new railroad overpasses to make the 162 mile segment completely segregated, eventually resulting in service similar to AMTRAK's existing Acela Express trains operating in the northeast corridor.

Florida : this corridor was initially supposed to connect Orlando to Tampa and eventually connect Orlando to Miami, but was cancelled by new Florida Governor Rick Scott who was worried about cost overruns and operating subsidies. This corridor was the furthest along of any high speed rail corridor and would likely have opened first.

Gulf Coast : this corridor will connect Mobile, Alabama to Houston, Texas through New Orleans, Louisiana and also New Orleans with Atlanta, Georgia via Birmingham, Alabama. As of April 11, 2011, little to no work has been done in this corridor.

Texas : this corridor will connect Tulsa, Oklahoma to San Antonio, Texas via Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Austin; it will also connect Little Rock, Arkansas to Dallas. Please see my page on the Texas High Speed Rail project for more information.

California : this corridor will eventually connect San Diego to the San Franciso Bay Area and Sacramento via Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Nevada. Please see my page on the California High Speed Rail project for more information.

Pacific Northwest : this corridor will connect Eugene and Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, BC via Seattle, Washington. As of April 11, 2011 this corridor has received $1.5 billion dollars in federal funding for improvements, which has resulted in additional Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland, improved schedule reliability, and reduced travel times.

Chicago Hub Network : this corridor actually consists of several corridors radiating outwards from Chicago, Illinois and connecting Chicago with Minneapolis, Minnesota; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Kansas City, Missouri via St. Louis, Missouri. Illinois is currently moving ahead with improvements that will eventually allow trains to operate between Chicago and St. Louis at speeds of about 110 mph; construction on $1.1 billion of improvements between Dwight, Illinois (southwest of Joliet) and St. Louis began in 2010. Illinois is also currently conducting a Tier I EIS for additional improvements along the Chicago - St. Louis corridor, including the addition of a second track and additional grade separations.

Update as of April 12, 2011 : a recent Congressional budget agreement has wiped out all federal funding for high speed rail for the rest of FY11, placing all of the above corridors in peril. FY12 is not looking good either. Read more here .

Update as of May 14, 2011 : the federal Department of Transportation has decided to award the $2.02 billion in high speed rail funding that Florida rejected to other national projects. Awards include:

  • $795 million for upgrades to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, increasing speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on some segments
  • $404 million for the Midwest, increasing speeds on some of the segments between Chicago and Detroit to 110 mph
  • $336 million for new locomotives and rail cars
  • $300 million for the California High Speed Rail Network, which is enough to add another 20 miles to the initial segment

This money figures to be the last federal investment in high speed rail for the foreseeable future.

For further updates, please see my October 2011 High Speed Rail Update .

Finally, perhaps you would like to read my responses to three major arguments against high speed rail?

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