High Speed Rail Update January 2013
The past six months have not been good for supporters of high speed rail, as there seems likely to be no additional federal money for it in the foreseeable future . In most of the corridors, "high speed rail" seems to have been replaced by "faster than usual AMTRAK speeds" rail. Let us review the different corridors.
California remains the only state that seems at all likely to construct true high speed rail in the next ten years. Even as additional funding for high speed rail was eliminated by Congressional Republicans, the California High Speed Rail project is still trying to commence construction this year - hopefully by this July (this date is already a delay from last year). Unfortunately, an article in the January 27, 2013 issue of the Los Angeles Times reports that none of the need parcels of land have been acquired yet.
For me, it is hard to believe that all of this land can be acquired by eminent domain and cleared for construction by this summer. It can take anywhere between three and eighteen months to take over land in this manner, depending on how obstructionist the land owners want to be. Due to a significant amount of opposition to the project in the Central Valley, where the initial segment will be built, it is likely the process will not go smoothly. In addition, the valuation of the parcels to be taken - mostly agricultural - will likely be contentious since land prices in the Central Valley have been on a significant upswing lately. Of course, throwing more money at problems usually makes solving them easier, but considering that there is barely enough money to finish the initial operating segment, money is not something the project can afford to waste.
For more information on this project, please refer to my page on the California High Speed Rail project .
Empire (New York)
This project appears to be stalled, as the last available newsletter on the official website dates from March 2012.
The Harrisburg - Philadelphia section of the corridor is expected to be "publicly sealed" (i.e. no grade crossings) by this summer.
Southeast (Washington D.C. to Georgia)
The next public update meeting will be held in Chesterfield County, VA on February 26.
Gulf Coast (Houston to Atlanta)
Texas (Dallas - San Antonio - Houston)
While there has been no progress on the official project, an alternative that would provide high speed rail between Dallas and Houston by 2020 using only private funds is moving forward. The project, officially known as Lone Star High-Speed Rail LLC (popularly known as the Central Texas Railway), plans to have two stops, one in north Houston and one in downtown Dallas. The Central Texas Railway has received a $15 million grant to study the route. This month the project has been in the news due to political demands that the rail line be extended to include stations at DFW airport and downtown Fort Worth; the $15 million grant is not seen to be enough to study these additional stations. Also see my page on the official Texas "T-Bone" project .
Northeast Corridor (Washington, D.C. to Boston)
In December, AMTRAK announced plans to replace its 20 existing Acela Express trainsets with new high speed models capable of speeds over 200 mph. While of course until the tracks are upgraded they will not go anywhere near that fast, acquiring them now means that AMTRAK will be able to take advantage of all route speed upgrades immediately after they are complete. It has been estimated that the new trains, even operating along the current right of way, could make the trip between New York and Washington as short as 96 minutes each way.
Northern New England (Boston - Portland, ME; Albany, NY; and Montreal, PQ)
Washington State Department of Transportation continues to make capital improvements along the Cascades corridor between Portland and Seattle with the $800 million in federal funding it received for high speed rail in 2010.
Chicago Hub Corridor (Chicago - Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit)
On November 22, 2012, trains on the Chicago - St. Louis route began operating at 110 mph along a segment in central Illinois between the towns of Dwight and Pontiac. Work continues on other segments along this route to allow for 110 mph travel speeds.