...Dallas-Fort Worth area to San Antonio, with a connecting line to Houston.

California ranks second, with applications totaling $1.15 billion. Funds would go for improvements to existing passenger rail lines that could eventually link up to a $46-billion, 800-mile Los Angeles-to-San Francisco service that advocates say would be capable of traveling up to 220 miles per hour.

The largest item among California’s applications is $400 million toward a $1.5-billion underground “Trainbox” at the San Francisco Transbay Terminal. ARRA funds would finance construction of a landing for an underground station that would serve existing commuter-train and eventually, high-speed-rail passengers. Contracts for demolition of the existing station could go out as soon as the beginning of 2010, says Transbay spokesman Adam Alberti.

Among East Coast states, New Jersey is focusing on plans for a $1.3-billion replacement for the Portal Bridge across the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny, near Newark and New York City. Trains now must travel at 60 miles per hour on the nearly century-old, two-track, movable swing-span bridge. That is significantly slower than the 90-mph speed on adjacent sections of the line. Courtney Carroll, a New Jersey Transit spokeswoman, calls the ARRA program a “perfect fit” for the project. New Jersey has applied for $38.5 million to take the project into final design. Construction is currently expected to start in 2012.

Maryland has applied for a total of $360 million in the first ARRA rail round. That includes $200 million for engineering and studies to speed replacement of three two-track Amtrak bridges with three-track crossings northeast of Baltimore. Maryland also wants $60 million for engineering and studies to accelerate a replacement for the Baltimore & Potomac tunnel, which dates from the 1870s.

Pennsylvania has applied for $28.2 million for preliminary engineering, with $27.4 million of that designated for projects to improve service between Philadelphia and Harrisburg. The largest item is $18 million for engineering of three Lancaster County grade-crossing separations. The projects are “pieces that add up to a significant improvement,” says Pennsylvania DOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick. The goal is to boost speeds to 125 miles per hour, from 110 mph now.

As the applications indicate, the initial round includes lots of possible engineering work. “Absolutely, we’re seeing significant opportunities here,” says Peter Gertler, vice president and chairman of the high-speed-rail practice with Kansas-City-based design firm HNTB.

Looking ahead to the corridor round, Jeff Barker, the California High Speed Rail Authority’s deputy director, says his agency plans to submit another $2 billion to $4 billion in applications. Pennsylvania plans to seek construction funds for the Philadelphia-Harrisburg projects, and may apply for money for a Scranton-to-Hoboken, N.J., line and a magnetic levitation project in Pittsburgh.

The October round won’t be the last. The House has passed a fiscal 2010 appropriations bill that includes an additional $4 billion for high-speed rail. The Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended $1.2 billion.

“We’re fast-tracking development of a major new program,” Rae says. She sees this initial period as critical to the rail effort. “We have this amazing opportunity to do this right the first time and build the beginning of a long-term legacy program,” she says. “If we don’t do this first part right, we have really failed 30 years of effort for many of us that have worked in the trenches...to reinforce the need for a federal partner in the rail arena.”