High-speed rail in Calif., Northeast moving forward

July 9, 2012

High-speed rail has been given an energy-boosting vitamin B-12 shot by the California legislature and Amtrak for separate projects on the West and East Coasts.

In California, the legislature agreed to spend $6 billion to build the first 130-mile leg of a 520-mile high-speed line – with an estimated cost of some $68 billion — that eventually will connect Sacramento with San Francisco and Los Angeles. Gov. Jerry Brown, who has staked his political reputation on high-speed rail for California, is expected to sign the spending bill into law.

In Washingotn, D.C., Amtrak announced a formal vision for 220-mph travel along the entire Northeast Corridor.

This first 130-mile leg of California high-speed rail, in California’s Central Valley, will connect Madera with Bakersfield. Previously, California voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure as a down-payment on the projected $68 billion route, with the U.S. Department of Transportation providing $3.2 billion in federal grants. The funds voted by the state legislature will come from bond sales and be mated with already approved $3.2 billion in federal grants to total $5.8 billion for the Central Valley leg of the project.

The New York Times reported in November 2011:

“[While] for many Californians, struggling through a bleak era that has led some people to wonder if the state’s golden days are behind it, this project goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation.

“[Gov. Brown] has enthusiastically embraced the plan, no matter that at 73, he seems unlikely to be around for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that is projected to be more than 20 years away. ‘California’s high-speed rail project will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, linking California’s population centers and avoiding the huge problems of massive airport and highway expansion,’ Mr. Brown said.”

President Obama has been the strongest proponent of high-speed rail advances in America, advocating a nationwide 17,000-mile network of high-speed and higher-speed trains that could provide 80 percent of the American population access to train travel by 2036.

Amtrak, meanwhile, unveiled its formal vision for 220-mile train travel – by 2040 – along the 438-mile Northeast Corridor linking Washington, D.C. with Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The $151 billion improvement plan over the decades-long period of construction would require substantial federal and state financial support to assure – on “NextGen” named trains — 94 minute travel times between Washington, D.C., and New York and between New York and Boston. The Washington-New York trip current requires almost three-hours travel time and almost four hours between New York and Boston.

Some 40,000 new construction jobs annually, for 25 years, would result, says Amtrak.

Amtrak’s vision includes direct rail links to airports at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, N.J., and White Plains, N.Y.

“The vision we will shape with the Northeastern states, Amtrak and all of our stakeholders will outlast the vagaries of politics, budgets and critics,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo.