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January 13th, 2010
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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act brought with it great enthusiasm for the future of high speed rail in the United States. However, implementation of this enormous rail project has been slow and unsteady, with several states even opting out of the program altogether. In today’s GR Energy and Climate Brief, Urban Strategy Consultant Andrew Simmons analyzes the future of high-speed rail in the United States, concentrating on the endemic characteristics of the US transportation mix which have encouraged a fragmented regional approach rather than a coordinated national approach to rail development.


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Today, the future for a functioning national high speed-rail network looks ever more cloudy, as plans are pushed back and some states reject Federal funds; a marked contrast from the heady days after the stimulus package, which was touted at the time as a transformative program that would create jobs and spur investment. Last year saw the enthusiasm for the national rail network diminish markedly, not only from skeptical governors and many in Congress for the Administration’s plans, but from a range of grassroots voices in the very states to which the funds had been targeted. The Obama administration has continued to push aggressively for its plan, arguing that it is necessary to reduce traffic and air congestion, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and stimulate the economy with new jobs. Yet, thus far the picture on high-speed rail has been very mixed, with things progressing much faster on the regional – in certain regions in particular – than at federal level. In the states, governors, led by Kasich in Ohio, and Walker in Wisconsin, are nixing their passenger rail funding, and even states like California and Florida, where there does seem to be some traction to implement HSR services, are facing strong political opposition. Rail is therefore more likely to proceed in a regional, as opposed to a coordinated national approach, moving forward primarily in the parts of the country that already have an experience with rail and the political tendency to support it, as opposed to a truly national network. Today’s GR Energy and Climate Brief looks at progress towards a high-speed rail network in the United States and analyzes some of the challenges it will face in the coming years. 

Source: OMB

Obstacles to High-Speed Rail in the Midwest

In December 2010, the Department of Transportation announced that Wisconsin and Ohio intended to give back the grants totaling $810 million they had been allocated for high-speed rail projects as part of the stimulus package and that the funds would be distributed to 12 other states. “Look, we just don’t see eye to eye on this project,” exclaimed Ohio governor John Kasich, who had defeated his Democratic predecessor Ted Strickland in November. Strickland had championed the “3C” passenger rail project while in office, claiming it would bring about thousands of new jobs and needed urban revitalization. However, the new governor believes too many unanswered questions remain on ridership levels, the actual speeds the trains would travel, how to balance funds for rail with needed road improvements, the long-term commitment of the federal government to provide subsidies, and the total cost it would be to Ohio taxpayers who face an $8 billion state budget deficit.  Perhaps most disappointed are the city mayors who anticipated that the improved accessibility would foster business development and bring in millions of dollars from newly taxable property around the stations. 

See full article here.

Andrew Simmons
Urban strategy consultant based in Bethesda, MD
13 January 2010


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