Only 1.4% of High Speed Rail Funds for Northeast Corridor

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.

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Comments

It is a bummer that the NE

It is a bummer that the NE didn't get as much funding, and it is true that the NEC is unparalleled in America both in traffic and speed, but for this first round of funding, I agree with the distribution of funds. There is support for HSR that hasn't been seen in America before and the success of new lines hinges on their construction and popularity which will in turn lead to an increase in funding for masstransport in general. NEC would also require much more to upgrade because it is already revenue trackage and work would have to be done around train schedules. Hopefully next time funds are distributed, there will be more of an emphasis on upgrading older corridors rather than the new starts.

Wee effort

Moreover, it's a piddling amount to spread around the nation. This should be a huge effort. Think military expenses to put this is perspective. Wee, wee, weak.

Frankly, the concept that you need to conduct detailed

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environmental reviews to rebuild and upgrade AN EXISTING RAIL NETWORK like the Northeast Corridor that has been in service for well over a hundred years is no more than a colossal waste of time and money and, IMO, is just plain ludicrous.

After all, it took over forty years to get the electrification extended from New Haven to Boston because of policies like these. Not to mention the fact that critical structures nearing the end of their useful life (like the Portal Bridge in New Jersey) still have yet to be replaced.

ahhhh! Let's put the money where the returns are!

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Oh my gosh - where to begin. I will start with your line that explains why the federal policy is ridiculous:

"And there's still no other region of the country where rail transportation makes nearly as much sense".

That should be the end of the discussion right there. Let's put our scarce resources where the greatest returns are. As for the Floridas and Illinois of the world, certainly HSR will be good there, eventually, but for now, let's just bank the necessary right-of-ways so that it can be built at reasonable cost AFTER we deal with the part of the country where rail would help the most and be embraced by the greatest number of people (that would be your Northeastern Megalopolis). Also, since land isn't getting any cheaper or more abundant around here, and we know that curvy ROWs are not conducive for HSR, let's get on the damned ball now and get the ROW for the inland route together. And for that matter, we should be doing the same for the previously designated Boston-Montreal HSR corridor, which while perhaps not in the first round, certainly deserves serious consideration as it could connect the Boston Area with another similarly sized economic engine. More connections = more commerce = more prosperity.

Another thought for the people advising the Senator-elect: just think of all the political traction you could get by making an issue over environmental "overregulation" preventing the development of true HSR (economic development!) in the northeast. It wouldn't hurt to point out that the Federal Railroad Administration has likely misread some of the environmental requirements, either.

Massachusetts had applied for

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Massachusetts had applied for over $1 billion of this money to build the New Bedford/Fall River commuter rail lines. I doubt there was ever any serious chance that any of the high-speed money would have been allocated to this project. I would guess they had to go through the motions of applying to appease Barney Frank.

I disagree

Shouldn't other states have a chance to get what we already have? Chicago has always been a major US rail hub, and LA-San Francisco is a very well-traveled route (now by air, but should be by rail).

This defines delusional.

This defines delusional. After the Big Dig fiasco - this eras' Teapot Dome - you think the rest of the country is going to sink big money into Massachusetts? Having already spent money to upgrade the Boston-New York line, they're going to send even more our way, and do without themselves?

Florida, Illinois and California all have what New England lacks - open, unbuilt space and straight-line routes between major population centers. Try laying new track in New England and you'll get the Save the Salamander crowd demanding million-dollar migration tunnels every fifty feet.

Who cares about what other states will stand for?

Other states can shut the hell up. Massachusetts is a net tax giver to the Feds. For every dollar this state sends the feds in taxes we routinely only get back 90 cents in federal funds. In other words- belonging to the "Union" costs us money while we support a dozen depopulated and rural "red states" that get far more money from the feds in spending than they kick in.

So the rest of the country can kiss our collective rear ends and shut the hell up about the big dig. This state always ends up on the wrong end of the federal goodie wagon. Maybe we should examine our "relationship" with the federal government if you ask me.

People in the top 10% income

People in the top 10% income are net tax givers to you. They're sick and tired of subsidizing you, and they'd like to end their "relationship" with you. If you ask them.

No one subsidizes me

No one subsidizes me "Notwhitey". Sounds like you are apologist for Red State welfare cases sucking off productive states like Massachusetts and then actually having the nerve to talk about how they like "Small Government" and how "independent" they are. Pffft. States like Wyoming and Oklahoma are giant federal welfare cases whose "conservative" white populations are more on the government teet than anyone in this country.

Maybe you should move out of this state if you are so concerned about Illinois and California and Florida? Leave. Go. Bye. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

I'm sick of Massachusetts haters begrudging us our fair due from the Feds. If you don't like it here- to the point that you actually begrudge us getting our fair share of Fed spoils- then get out.

not quite delusional...

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Actually, Acela was a success story in MA more than elsewhere. I wish to point out that the Massachusetts section of the "high-speed" rail corridor might be only one on the line between Boston and NYC where Acela can actually go 150 mph, which would still not qualify as very high speed in most countries. As for Florida's population centers, they are nowhere near as dense as ours, and therefore, rail will be significantly less effective.

We need high-speed rail

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We need high-speed rail service to Montreal.

Maine? You can get stuff out of the LL Bean catalog if you need sturdy socks.
Vermont? The cheese is delivered in Massachusetts, too.

Being able to step out of the station and walk to St. Paul and have lunch would be the very definition of a civilization in good working order.

Other places need rail funding too...

I have used the NEC many, many times, (even tried the fake high-speed rail once... but that's a different converstation). I have also rode rail lines in other parts of the country (locally operated commuter and Amtrak service) enough to have a good first hand idea about usage. This is why I disagree with this post.

While you are certainly correct that the NEC is a success (could be leaps and bounds better, but in comparison to other routes, it's much further ahead), you should accept that there are other places around the country that have important rail service, and with investment (even funding to start, as states end up paying for most improvements anyway), would be very successful. The NEC has a long history, and has had tons of money put into it, it shows, and it's wonderful. Why on earth would you not want that for other places in the country? Plus, when you're upgading a line like the NEC, your dollar doesn't improve ridership as much as if you were to do more significant upgrades to places that need it more.

Let me give you a great example, the Amtrak Cascades operates between Vancouver B.C. and Eugene, Oregon, but the highest ridership (and greatest train frequency) occurs between Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. People there love the train, it sells out on holidays, keeps beating ridership records all the time, and the states subsidize it becuase it works... well. The travel time is 3 hours and 30 minutes (faster than driving in traffic, which is often)... with upgrades the projected time is 2:30 minutes (faster than driving on a good day). With additional funding (and when the ridership warrants the increase) there could be 13 round trips every day. Newsflash for some people living on the East Coast (people who read UH probably already know this)... people do live in the Northwest... probably way more than you think. Can you imagine (especially with the energy onscious culture of the Northwest) how much ridership would improve if you cut an hour off the time... the investment is clearly valuable.

That is not an isolated instance either. Some of the routes that recieved the big money I don't know as much about, but some, like California (I know, hot button issue there) do show great promise, and there are miles of carefully calculated numbers to prove it.

It would be awesome if all the routes made money, and with work focused in the right places more could, other routes are just bound to be subsidized, but they provide people an important option, which is much better for energy use and the environment. I choose not to drive a car and ride my bike or take the T but I pay for road work. I would be happy to have my taxes going to better rail (yes, even subsidized, so long as it serves important routes and a reasonable number or people) than wider roads... it's just a better and more energy conscious way to travel, and a far better investment. Wider roads do not reduce congestion long term... we've managed to prove that over and over.

Bottom line... just because you don't live there, doesn't mean they don't deserve or need it. Especially where there is concrete evidence that investment will result in improvements that will improve how people travel and choose rail over airplanes and cars. We're lucky because the NEC is nice, but it didn't get there without funding and attention. Trust me, I want real HSR on the NEC too...

NEC vs. PacNW

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I think that that you are right w/r/t the development of rail on the West Coast. There are well-defined population centers with frequent intercity travel between them. I am particularly impressed with the work that California has done on the HSR planning front, especially when you consider the meltdown of that state's finances (although much of the work was done before all hell broke loose).

I disagree, however, with the notion that upgrading the NEC will not go as far as upgrading the lines in the Pacific Northwest - or even California for that matter (because while ahead in planning, CA is well behind in "on the ground" rail and in adopting a train-riding culture). The NEC has MUCH greater population density than the PacNW, much higher numbers of intercity travelers and people who are already inclined to take the train (if it is reliable and faster than other modes, which is the key). Hence, I believe that 30-60 minute decrease in the travel time between Boston and New York (and corresponding reliability improvement) would have many more people riding trains here than with the same improvement in the PacNW. It would also have the bonus of having those riders, who are mostly business travelers on weekdays, paying a substantially higher fare reducing the overall cost to the government. I agree with you that the same dollar will certainly improve things in the PacNW, but I just do not believe that it would improve things as much for as many.

That transitions nicely into another point, which you hit on. We cannot have an honest discussion about the development of HSR in America until people understand the true all-in cost of driving on our "free" highways.

Good politics--

Spreading the funding around helps create constituents for rail service over a broader swath of the country. Opponents of Amtrak, like McCain, love to say, well, it's just a going concern on each coast why should the federal gov't fund it. Spreading the projects around in the first burst helps neutralize that argument & creates a new cadre of rail users to support the service & push for funding.

Also, I was wondering about the South Station-North Station connection which has been discussed most recently during the Dukakis administration. I seem to recall that that was originally planned to be part of the Big Dig, but was cut at some point. However, I also have a vague memory of reading that some prep work was done while the area was dug up (footings for walls or some such thing?). I have no idea if any solid plans were drawn up, but even if they weren't, wouldn't that be something the state could push when future funding comes around? And, yes, I realize that this could be stigmatized as "Son of Big Dig" but still...