California, Florida, Illinois Big Winners for High-Speed Rail
By Mikel Chavers, CSG Associate Editor
Even though 40 states and Washington, D.C., competed for a piece of more than $8 billion available in the Recovery Act for high-speed rail, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, only three states walked away big winners. California, Florida and Illinois were the only states awarded more than $1 billion each in funding Jan. 28 for fast trains.
The other 10 projects that won funding received smaller high-speed rail grants less than $1 billion each, ranging from $822 million for a high-speed rail corridor from Madison to Milwaukee, Wis., that will eventually connect to the Midwest’s Chicago hub to the smallest award of $4 million for a high-speed rail segment in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, area.
Big Winner #1: California
California will receive the most of any state for high-speed rail, winning $2.25 billion, according to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. In its application for funding, the authority asked for $4.7 billion for the state.
The state is prepared to break ground on the new tracks stretching from Anaheim in Southern California to San Francisco as early as next year, according to the authority.
But according to Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the first train service won’t be up and running for California customers until more like 2015 at the earliest, he told State News magazine (now known as Capitol Ideas) last year when the state applied for the funding.
The entire system with extensions connecting San Diego and Sacramento to the network could be completed much later, according to the Los Angeles Times.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Jan. 28’s funding announcement “fantastic news for job creation in California,” in a press release. Schwarzenegger said in the press release his state’s fast train plan is the largest public works project in the nation and it will save billions of pounds in greenhouse gases and “will be the first true high-speed rail system to break ground in the nation.”
While other states’ plans call for trains at around 110 miles per hour, California’s plans call for trains that are faster than 200 miles per hour, more comparable to the high-speed trains of Europe.
California will match the federal dollars with its own funding but it still won’t be enough to build out the whole network. Last year, California voters approved Proposition 1A, which means the state is committed to $9.95 billion in bonds to fund high-speed rail. Still, the entire network will cost more than $40 billion.
“ … That still doesn’t get you there; it barely gets you halfway,” Pringle told State News last year.
Big Winner #2: Florida
Florida will get $1.25 billion for a high-speed rail network from Tampa to Orlando to be completed in 2014—which is slated as the first stimulus high-speed rail project to be completed.
The $1.25 billion will go to build 84 miles of track from Tampa to Orlando and trains on that track will travel at 168 miles per hour, according to The New York Times. That’s just the first leg of the corridor that will eventually connect to Miami, the newspaper reports.
State legislators also approved a rail package earlier this year to develop the SunRail commuter train in Orlando and provide an estimated $15 million to the Tri-Rail train in south Florida, according to The Jacksonville Observer. Together, the state and federal funding will boost Florida’s high-speed rail plans.
Big Winner #3: Illinois
Illinois scored $1.2 billion for its high-speed rail plan from Chicago to St. Louis. Although the state asked for $3.6 billion, according to stimulus grant applications, officials were happy that Illinois—along with all the Midwestern states represented by the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission that applied for grants—got some of the high-speed rail funds.
In fact, the Midwest collectively garnered more than $2.6 billion for high-speed rail, according to Laura Kliewer, director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, which is closely tied to The Council of State Governments Midwestern office.
“The Midwest has had an integrated plan among the states for a number of years now and there’s been leadership,” Kliewer said. “There was a lot of cooperation; it wasn’t just one state working by itself.”
In fact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission had a lot to do with that interstate cooperation when it comes to the region’s high-speed rail, she said. The commission worked extensively on Capitol Hill pushing for high-speed rail federal funding to the states and has educated members of Congress, including President Obama while he was serving in the U.S. Senate.
Since most of the high-speed rail plans in the Midwest are updating existing tracks, the funding will largely go to updating train tracks to handle faster trains taking more trips, according to Kliewer. Of the Midwestern plans that received stimulus funding, Illinois’ Chicago to St. Louis plan along with a Chicago to Madison route are the furthest along, she said.
And even though Illinois’ funding and the funding for the rest of the Midwest was welcome news, it’s still just a down payment on a larger plan.
“It’s a great first start, but it will need a sustained effort,” Kliewer said.