This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


I’m excited to see Washington State receive $590 million in high-speed rail grants. It’s pretty remarkable that our state, with just 2% of the nation’s population, managed to snag 7% of the $8 billion in federal dollars.

As much as I adore Sen. Patty Murray, I’m not sure we can give her office the lion’s share of the credit here. To my knowledge, this didn’t go through the typical appropriations process where Sen. Murray has disproportionate clout. Rather, this is the result of 20 years of work by the states of Oregon and Washington to seriously invest in rail when not many other states were doing so.

In addition to shaving several minutes off the Seattle-Portland trip, we’ll also get a couple of new round-trips per day, and some significant work towards systems which will allow our Talgo trains to hit their maximum speed of 125mph.

This is, also, the perfect use of stimulus money, IMO. You have a long-term plan (pdf) for infrastructure investment that might have been cut because of state budget issues, so the feds come in and play the counter-cyclical role of keeping the project and the jobs afloat until the economy recovers.

Finally, one of the criticisms of the $8 billion fund was that it wasn’t enough to do a national network, and so you had a choice of either putting all the money on one “showpiece” project, or doleing it out piecemeal and maybe not seeing any HSR actually get built. Overall, I thought the DOT did a really good job of balancing those two goals. California and Florida, with projects in the advanced planning stages, got over half the money, and the rest was largely doled out to a few projects in substantial amounts that it could actually make a difference.

2 Replies to “HSR Grants”

  1. I agree completely. A couple more trips and increased reliability on Cascades is awesome! Now, if only they could get the streamline the boarding process.

  2. Well, I read in Publicola this morning that, while McGinn was saying there was no chance of funding from the Corps of Engineers for the seawall replacement, Murray’s office had already arranged a $400k+ study by the Corps of the extent to which they should chip in on repairs. And I remember that WSDOT, last year, totally de-emphasized their Cascades effort just as Obama entered office looking for rail systems to subsidize.

    That said, it is obviously the 20-year effort that has made a difference and will pay out in what has become the short run. If WSDOT can just keep on schedule for the next decade, we’ll have 100-mph trains from the Canadian border to Portland, and they won’t be stopping at SeaTac.

    Railroading is a matter of attention to detail, and you need a bureaucracy that can both think far into the future, and ensure attention to what may seem to be minor projects in the present. Investors, be they public or private, want to see real plans. States that want federal money for rail should be able to show their plans.

    And (am I the only one?) shouldn’t WSDOT be planning for a fast train to Spokane by now?

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