US redistributes $2bn in high-speed rail funds

Amtrak was awarded $450m to make upgrades on the Boston to Washington DC corridor, thanks to money previously rejected by Florida Governor Rick Scott. California’s High Speed Rail Authority received an additional $300m for its ambitious plan to build an 800-mile high-speed rail network across the state.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded an additional $2 billion in high-speed rail funds to build or upgrade projects in 15 states.

The additional high-speed rail funds were made available earlier this year, when Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, cancelled his state’s Tampa to Orlando corridor, arguing that the project would incur enormous cost overruns and require state subsidies.

The largest chunk of Florida’s funding will go to the existing Northeast Corridor, which connects Boston, New York, and Washington DC. Amtrak, the government-owned passenger rail carrier, will receive $450 million for improvements on the Northeast Corridor, and the state of New York will receive $295 million to create new bypass route out of New York City, according to a statement.  Maryland and Rhode Island will also receive about $50 million for bridge, station and platform improvements.

The DOT said in a statement that the $795 million dedicated to the Northeast Corridor marks “an unprecedented investment”.

The Chicago to St. Louis line will receive $186.3 million, and Michigan will receive $196.5 million for track and signal improvements on the Detroit to Chicago corridor.  California’s $43 billion project to build an 800-mile high-speed rail network will receive an additional $300 million.

States across the US have been eyeing Florida’s funds since Scott cancelled his state’s project in February. Scott was the third newly-elected US governor to decline federal high-speed rail funding for his state, following similar decisions by governors in Wisconsin and Ohio in December. Scott had requested that the rejected high-speed rail funds be redistributed to road and port projects in the state, but the DOT said it would instead transfer those funds to other states’ high-speed rail projects, opening up an application process for the funds.

Last month, the DOT said it received more than 90 applications from 24 states as well as Amtrak. The states requested a total of nearly $10 billion, about five times the available amount of funding.

In a press conference this morning, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the oversubscribed funding shows “a pent-up demand in America to get into the high-speed rail business”.

President Barack Obama has made high-speed rail a priority in his budget proposals as well as in the 2009 stimulus bill. Obama has pledged to connect 80 percent of the US population to a high-speed rail network within the next 25 years. His 2012 budget proposal included a provision for $53 billion in high-speed rail funding over the next six years.

But Republican governors across the country have been critical of Obama’s proposals, and Congress eliminated all funding for high-speed rail in the 2011 budget passed last month.