Monday, May 09, 2011

Fla. HSR funds redistributed; NEC wins share

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on May 9 announced the Obama Administration’s redistribution of roughly $2.02 billion in high speed rail funds, derived from funds originally targeted for Florida’s $2.4 billion HSR project, prior to Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of the federal package.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor was the biggest winner, garnering nearly $800 million, or one-third, of the total package. The move wasn’t a total surprise, with many rail industry insiders in recent weeks suspecting the NEC would receive a significant share of the funding redistribution as a “safe bet” that would benefit numerous Northeast states.

LaHood detailed the redistribution on CNBC’s “Morning Joe” show early Monday morning, May 9, with show hosts and guest panelists, including Wall Street analysts, quizzing the secretary on the funding targets and on the administration’s continued support for high speed rail in particular and passenger rail, including Amtrak, overall.

LaHood also answered ongoing questions about passenger rail security, the outgrowth of “aspirations” to disrupt U.S. rail lines outlined innotes captured by U.S. Navy who raided the compound of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. “We will look at information found inside his house and see if there were any threats they’re thinking about for trains,” LaHood said, adding, “We will work with Congress on this.”

Confirming speculation surfacing late last week, LaHood said that he would award funding to the Detroit-Chicago passenger rail route Monday. Small portions of that route have been upgraded to handle 110 mph higher-speed rail (HrSR) service. LaHood was scheduled to make the announcement in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. Monday, following a similar official announcement in New York during the morning.

Overall, LaHood said, the $2.4 billion package “will fix up tracks, new rails, fix up tracks to get to higher speeds and also buy new equipment, new cars, and more comfortable cars, not only in the Northeast and Midwest, but California, where we made big investments.”

Following the high-profile rejection of HSR (and HrSR) funds by the governors of Florida and Wisconsin, ostensibly due to fiscal concerns, 24 states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications for funding.

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor receives $795 million to address various choke points on the NEC, with hopes of increasing top speeds between New York and Washington to 160 mph, and increasing passenger capacity through equipment purchases.

About $404.1 million will be used to upgrade two Midwest passenger routes, adding to previous funding already funneling to Chicago-St. Louis infrastructure upgrades in cooperation with Union Pacific Railroad. Chicago-Detroit is also identified for upgrading, with a goal of reducing travel time between the two cities by 30 minutes. About $195 million will be used to improve tracks and signals between Kalamazoo in southwestern Michigan to Dearborn, just west of Detroit. Another $2.8 million will be used for an analysis of a new station in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Another $336.2 million aims to improve U.S. manufacture of locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest, through “Next Generation” rail equipment.

California’s planned 700-mile, $44 billion HSR project gets another $300 million in federal funds, designed to extend the present 110-mile initial segment in the state’s Central Valley by 20 miles.

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