High-speed rail is red-hot. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has been flooded with proposals seeking a piece of the $8 billion it received for high-speed rail grants in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However, the potential plans far outstrip DOT’s ARRA rail bank account. DOT’s Federal Rail-road Administration reported on July 16 it had received 278 rail-grant “pre-applications” totaling $102.5 billion. Some applicants may not win grants, but more money may be on the way. A House committee has recommended an additional $4 billion for high-speed rail in regular 2010 appropriations.

California’s $40-billion program is viewed as a leading contender for DOT grants.
Photo: California high speed rail authority
California’s $40-billion program is viewed as a leading contender for DOT grants.

Looking at the crush of interest, Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, says, “Basically, this confirms what we’ve been saying. All around the country people want good, high-quality, dependable train service, and there needs to be a federal program to make it happen.”

FRA is going through an “avalanche” of pre-applications that came in before the July 10 deadline, says spokesman Warren Flatau. Final applications are due on Aug. 24 for three of FRA’s four grant categories. The deadline for the fourth category is Oct. 2. DOT expects to award the first batch of rail grants in the fall. Secretary Ray LaHood says, “We’re going to try and really jump-start opportunities...in several places in the country where people have been dreaming about high-speed rail for a decade or more.”

Only states, the District of Columbia, or multistate groups are eligible to apply for the rail grants. DOT reports applications were filed by 40 states and the District of Columbia. Some states submitted multiple proposals. California led the way, with applications totaling $24.2 billion. It has plans for a $40-billion, 800-mile system linking major cities.

Peter Gertler, chair of high-speed rail for HNTB Corp., Kansas City, says substantive applications that include political support and local commitment come from California and the Midwest, with other good projects submitted from the Northeast and Florida.

Maryland ranked second, with more than $11 billion in proposals. Of that, $3 billion would be for projects within the state’s boundaries, most of them on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. Major items include $1.5 billion to replace three bridges and install new track structures and $1 billion to replace the Baltimore & Potomac tunnel, which dates from the 1870s. FRA also included in Maryland’s total about $2.4 billion for Northeast Corridor projects in other states, including $400 million for the long-delayed Moynihan station project in Manhattan.

Maryland DOT has been working with other Northeast states and agreed to take the lead for those corridor...