California, Florida big winners in high-speed rail funding

Of the $8bn in stimulus money available, California took $2.25bn and Florida received $1.25bn. A Midwest high-speed rail corridor linking Illinois, Missouri and Kansas also received more than $1bn.

The US Department of Transportation has awarded stimulus funds for high-speed rail projects across the country, with California, Florida and several states in the Midwest emerging as the big winners in the fierce competition for the $8 billion available for such projects.

The high-speed rail programme has been continually highlighted as a big opportunity for private investment by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and a transportation infrastructure priority for the administration of US President Barack Obama.

“We don’t expect the taxpayers to pay for all of this,” LaHood told InfrastructureInvestor last week during an interview, talking about the development of high-speed rail. “It’s a combination of public and private expertise from other parts of the world coming to America.”

California, which has been developing a statewide high-speed rail network for more than 14 years, was given $2.25 to speed along its efforts. The money will be used to develop four initial segments of the 800-mile high-speed rail track on which trains will be able to travel at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour. California had requested $4.7 billion of stimulus funds.

Florida received $1.25 billion for its high-speed rail project, a corridor connecting the cities of Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay. The money will be used to speed along the development of the 84-mile Tampa Bay to Orlando route, on which trains will be able to travel at speeds of up to 168 miles per hour. Florida had requested $2.26 billion of the stimulus funds.

The Midwest states of Illinois, Missouri and Kansas received $1.1 billion in funding to speed the development of a rail line from Chicago to St. Louis and Kansas City, along which trains would be able to travel at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

Projects in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, the Northeast and Northwest US won the balance of the $8 billion made available by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, signed into law a year ago this month.

In October 2009, 24 states submitted 45 applications for more than $50 billion in high speed rail projects. Today’s stimulus awards will touch a total of 13 high-speed rail corridors across 31 states.

The award announcement comes one day after Obama highlighted high-speed rail as a priority in his State of the Union address, remarking that “there are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation's goods, services, and information”.

In its latest business plan for the $42.6 billion project, California laid out a proposal to have private investors contribute between $10 billion to $12 billion toward the high-speed rail network, expected to break ground in 2012. Federal funds, including the $2.25 billion received today, would comprise between $12 billion to $16 billion of the project’s total cost.

“Is it enough to do all the things we want to do?” LaHood said last week of the $8 billion in stimulus funds he had available for disbursement. “No. But it really jump-starts our op¬portunities.”