High Speed Rail Update, July 2012
The combination of the economic downturn and the growing power of Congressional Republicans has not been kind to high speed rail in the past year. This unkindness was typified in the failure to include any funding for high speed rail in the new federal reauthorization bill - MAP - 21. California, which has traditionally been the leader in pushing the country forward, is the only state that has made significant progress in this department in the past year. Developments both in California and all the other high speed rail corridors follow.
The biggest news since my last High Speed Rail Update in October 2011 is that on July 6, 2012 the California State Senate joined the State House in approving an appropriations bill to allow disbursement of $8 billion in state funds that will permit construction to begin on the initial operating segment in the Central Valley.
In an attempt to secure the support of urban politicians, the bill also included $1.9 billion in improvements for commuter rail systems in Northern and Southern California. These improvements include the electrification of Caltrain and as yet unspecified improvements to Metrolink in the Los Angeles area. These improvements, when identified, will likely include capacity improvements that will allow, in the short-term, increased local service and in the long term provide better connections with high speed rail.
Unfortunately, this vote does not mean that construction will begin anytime soon - despite expectations of a late 2012 groundbreaking - as there are several outstanding legal issues that have to be resolved, including lawsuits both from cities along the San Francisco Peninsula and from parties in the Central Valley. These legal issues are in addition to several local and state regulatory hurdles that still must be overcome. Finally, several Republican state legislators are pushing to give Californians a new vote on whether to continue with the project.
Empire (New York)
The Tier I Environmental Impact Statement is expected to come out this year, but there is no timetable as to when we might expect it.
The goal of reaching a top speed of 125 mph between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, originally expected to be reached by 2013, is now not projected to be accomplished until March 2017.
Southeast (Washington, D.C. to Georgia)
While a Tier II Environmental Impact Statement is currently being prepared, it is likely to lead nowhere as no money has been identified to cover the estimated cost of $8 - $43 billion dollars.
Florida (East-West Orlando Corridor)
Governor Rick Scott's veto of the project seems to have killed any prospect of high speed rail in Florida for the foreseeable future. Fortunately for states such as California, Florida's loss is their gain.
Gulf Coast (Houston - Atlanta)
No progress has been made in this corridor. I guess we should be thankful that full regular Amtrak service has been restored after the hurricane devastation.
Texas (Dallas - San Antonio - Houston
Rail boosters are currently in the process of attempting to raise $10 billion in private donations to construct a high-speed rail line from Dallas / Forth Worth to Houston. For more details please see my page on the Texas T-Bone project .
Northeast Corridor (Washington, D.C. to Boston)
Although not included in the initial list, Amtrak is moving ahead with improvements that by 2020 will reduce the amount of travel time between Philadelphia and New York to 62 minutes and to 37 minutes by 2030. It is unclear how Amtrak will pay for these and further improvements, which are estimated to cost $151 billion.
Northern New England (Boston - Portland, ME; Albany, NY; and Montreal, PQ)
Little progress has been made on this corridor.
Most money allocated for this area has gone for renovations to Seattle's King Street Station and to provide additional trains between Seattle and Portland.
Chicago Hub Corridor (Chicago - Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit)
Apart from an increase in maximum speed along a portion of the Chicago - Detroit Amtrak route in Michigan, no progress has been made in this sector.
For more recent progress, refer to my January 2013 update .