The Obama Administration is announcing $8 Billion in grants for High-Speed Rail - and allocating just $112 million of that total to the only successful rail corridor in the country - and the only existing high-speed network. Instead of building on success, the administration has decided to hand out chunks of cash to regions without any substantial existing passenger rail traffic. It's more than a little painful.
Let's be clear: this was a largely self-inflicted wound. The states along the Northeast Corridor were spoiled by the relatively good state of rail transportation in the region, and so failed to invest in the planning and advocacy that constitute the necessary groundwork for big federal grants. The states that just hit the jackpot - Florida, California, and Illinois - are notable for their size, which allowed individual states to do the bulk of the planning. They've spent decades surveying lines and clearing environmental reviews. We didn't.
We're starting to catch up. The New England Rail Summit (more) met for the first time in August, too late for this round of funding. If it gets its act together, it can turn the geographic fragmentation of the region from a weakness into an unbeatable strength. After all, more states means more senators and more governors. And there's still no other region of the country where rail transportation makes nearly as much sense - or where it's likely to become what it already is in the NE Corridor - the preferred mode of travel for those who can afford to go any way they want. So, hopefully, losing out will serve as a wake-up call, and help us win investment in the long run.
There's also some good news buried in the funding. Although the $112 million will be spread from DC to Boston, we're winning some additional cash. There will be $35m to extend service to Brunswick in Maine, potentially boosting North Station traffic. There will be $70 million spent along the Springfield corridor, and another $50m in Vermont, to upgrade Amtrak's Vermonter service. (That's right - more for the Vermonter than for the entire Northeast Corridor.) And most encouragingly, that corridor will also receive $40 million to build a second main track from New Haven to Springfield. That's a necessary prerequisite of any effort to establish a secondary, inland high-speed route from NY to Boston.
But today looks pretty bleak.