High Speed Rail Projects in the US Lining up for Federal Dollars

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As an example of one of the few stimulus ideas that really does stimulate metals demand and leave behind a tangible asset for decades to come, Virginia is pushing for more than $1.6 billion in stimulus money to implement high-speed rail between Petersburg and the District according to the Washington Post. Currently trains can travel at a maximum of 79 mph but rarely reach that speed. The new track, signaling and grading would allow trains to consistently hit 90 mph and make the journey time by rail into DC consistently quicker than by car. Evidence elsewhere shows this is what is needed to move any significant number of commuters from cars to rail. Although some parts of the project are shovel ready and could be in operation by 2011, others will take much longer in the planning stages and will not be operational until 2017, underlining the relatively weak priority rail had in the US prior to gas price increases in 2007/8 and the recent provision of stimulus dollars which has created a flurry of interest among local representatives eager to grab federal dollars for their state.

Competition will be tough though. The Obama administration voted through $8bn for high speed rail and the president’s own city of Chicago is at the center of a sprawling 3,000 mile rail network upgrade project that has been in the planning stages for many years. Generally reckoned to be the front runner in securing federal dollars, the project would include 10 federally approved rail corridors. The first $9.6bn stage of the plan would be to connect Chicago to St. Louis, Detroit and Madison. Later, the faster trains would reach Omaha, Kansas City, MO; Minneapolis; and Cincinnati. Partly because the project has already been so long in the planning the big ideas have already been reigned in with more pragmatic objectives to achieve just 110 mph speeds but would still take the Chicago to St Louis journey from more than five hours to fewer than four. An idea to upgrade just this section to 220 mph trains would bring the journey time down to 2 hours Stateline.org reports.

The other front runner is California’s dream of bullet trains that could speed the 432 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in little more than two and a half hours. The European-style trains would cruise on all-new track, hitting 220 mph in places. California voters in November approved spending $10 billion to start building the new network, but it wouldn’t be finished until 2020 at the earliest. However there are questions about how cash strapped California is gong to afford it. The $8 billion voted by Congress to create new high-speed rail routes is 10 times as much as Amtrak’s nationwide passenger system spent on building projects last year. But even so, there will be many disappointed supporters of rail projects around the country when allocation decisions are made on August 24th.

–Stuart Burns

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