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Obama’s High-Speed Rail Plan

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"Obama’s High-Speed Rail Plan"

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I’m watching Barack Obama’s remarks on high-speed rail, which I think are excellent, but I’m more interested in the fact sheet I’ve gotten in the old inbox from the White House since it sheds some light on something that I and others have been wondering about—how is this money supposed to be spent? The answer is that there will be a two-stage competitive grant process. In the first stage “applications will focus on projects that can be completed quickly and yield measurable, near-term job creation and other public benefits” and then there will be a “next round to include proposals for comprehensive high-speed programs covering entire corridors or sections of corridors.” What corridors are we talking about?

—California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)

—Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)

—South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)

—Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, , Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)

—Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville,)

—Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)

—Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)

—Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)

—Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)

—Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston) to compete for funds for improvements to the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.

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My take on this is that the most promising projects on the merits, from a federal point of view, are probably those that upgrade the existing Northeast Corridor (where we know demand exists) and those that connect to the Northeast Corridor since the existing passenger rail corridor extends the utility of the new link. The Chicago Hub Network and the California Corridor concepts strikes me as very important for the long-term future of their regions, but for it to be useful will take a lot of time and money. I assume that the relevant state-level politicians for the Gulf Coast and South Central Corridors aren’t going to be interested in ponying up the sort of state funds that would make these projects competitively viable, and that may be for the best since I think those corridors may be a bit ill-conceived. It seems strange to build so much track in Texas and not manage to link Houston with Dallas.

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