High-Speed Rail in the Stimulus

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Good news for people who like fast trains as it seems a significant amount of high speed rail funds made it into the stimulus:

And while many initiatives were scaled back as Congress and the White House sought to cut the overall cost, there were some surprise increases, including a quadrupling of money for high-speed rail projects to $8 billion.

The White House pushed for the added money in the final rapid-fire negotiations, seeing it as a tangible way to create jobs and benefit different parts of the country. It also added a futuristic element to legislation that has been criticized as lacking forward vision.

I’m glad to see this happen, though it’s still the case that my first, second, and third preferences for transportation funding in the stimulus would have been money for mass transit system operating costs. The really good news about this is that my understanding is that the President took a personal interest in this provision, which is crucial because building-out an HSR network in such a big country would require a lot of followthrough.

Meanwhile, it seems that Harry Reid was talking about this provision and mentioned the idea that a high-speed rail corridor from Los Angeles to Las Vegas might be eligible for some of the money. That’s true. It’s also, I think, a pretty good idea. But some conservatives have decided to portray this as Reid sneaking a special “high speed rail to Las Vegas” provision into the stimulus package. There is no such provision and he did no such thing. The United States has many metropolitan areas and no true high-speed rail corridors. Consequently there are a lot of plausible city pairs and corridors that could benefit from these measures. My guess would be that the folks best-positioned to take advantage of this would be in California where they’ve already got the HSR ball rolling. Pennsylvania also has an actively ongoing initiative to upgrade service to Pittsburgh and Ed Rendell puts a high priority on this sort of thing and Arlen Specter was a pivotal Senator in pulling the deal together, so they might benefit.