States Still Waiting on High-Speed Rail Stimulus Dollars
By Mikel Chavers
States seeking high-speed rail stimulus dollars from the federal government are still waiting on the edge of their seats for winners to be announced. That announcement is expected to come sometime this winter, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
“Due to the overwhelming response and our desire to lay the groundwork for a truly national high-speed and intercity passenger rail program, we will be announcing all awards this winter,” Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Joseph C. Szabo said in a statement in early October. “Our selections will be merit-based and will reflect President Obama’s vision to remake America’s transportation landscape.”
That announcement comes after the Federal Railroad Administration received 45 applications from 24 states totaling some $50 billion for high-speed rail corridor plans. The administration also received another 214 applications from 34 states totaling $7 billion for smaller high-speed rail projects.
In the meantime, the Federal Railroad Administration released its Preliminary National Rail Plan last week. That plan said state rail plans are important in developing a long-range national rail plan. According to the report, the administration will look to states to develop policies for freight and passenger rail within states. That’s important because many states are applying for federal stimulus dollars to develop high-speed rail corridors on existing freight corridors.
“Because the majority of the infrastructure is owned and maintained by the freight railroads, the Department will continue to work with states to develop plans that contain proposals or initiatives for partnering with freight carriers in the development of plans and objectives,” the report said.
With freight and proposed high-speed passenger rail on the same tracks, congestion could become an issue, officials said.
In Illinois, for example, a railroad segment being considered for high-speed rail stimulus funds from Chicago to St. Louis only has one track, George Weber, bureau chief of the Illinois Department of Transportation Bureau of Railroads told State News in September. The one track has siding spaced throughout the corridor—similar to the railroad world’s version of passing lanes or tracks where a train sits while another one goes by. But if that corridor were to support the eight roundtrips of passenger rail a day—what the state is proposing for stimulus funds—another track would be needed, Weber said.
To compound what could amount to a lot of rail congestion, Union Pacific—the railroad that owns most of the Chicago to St. Louis corridor—is opening up a new intermodal facility near the corridor next year and will be operating more freight trains on the route, Weber said.
“The fact that you would potentially be having 40 trains a day on this Chicago to St. Louis corridor requires the need for additional capacity,” Weber said.