This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
This was a big week for national high-speed rail. First up, the almost-dead ARC tunnel project in New York re-emerged as the Gateway project. Then, today, the Obama administration announced a $53B national high-speed rail plan.
First, let’s talk Gateway. The tunnel would be smaller than the New Jersey Transit-sponsored ARC tunnel, but would serve largely the same purpose, expanding capacity on the Northeast Corridor between Newark and Penn Station. This is why it was so important that Amtrak lay out its ambitious, 30-year, $117 billion vision for the Northeast Corridor last year. Now, all of the projects like the Gateway project have a common vision to ladder up to.
Next, we have the proposal for $53B towards national HSR. If you can do even a bit of math, you’ll quickly see that $53B is less than half what it would take to build out the NE corridor project above, meaning that getting truly national HSR is going to take far more than $53B. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty significant proposal.
Regionally, there’s no doubt that this would have positive effects. In addition to a respectable chunk of the initial $8B HSR pot, we managed to get a sizeable amount of the pot that Ohio and Wisconsin rejected a few months back. Clearly, Amtrak Cascades is looked upon favorably in DC. My guess is that DC, like most granting organizations, likes low-risk, high-reward projects. The fact that Cascades is funded in large part by local money means that there’s a commitment here to seeing it through. This makes the bean counters in DC happy, because it means it’s less likely that a rail-hostile Governor is going to come in and tear the thing up tomorrow. So my guess is that we’d be in line for a nice chunk of that $53B when it comes through.
Will it come through? Who knows. The new Republican head of the House Transportation Committee says its a terrible idea. On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of project that gets cut in the House, only to be added back in by the Senate in conference committee. So we’ll see.