This morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) announced plans to abandon the state’s high-speed rail project that would have linked Tampa to Orlando.  The cancellation means that $2.4B in federal money already committed to the project will be returned and likely doled out to other states pursuing inter-city rail funds.  Scott’s announcement parallels those from other fellow gubernatorial Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio who’ve similarly killed HSR projects, from which Washington State has already benefited.

This morning, WSDOT announced that it plans to follow suit in vying for Florida’s money:

“I’ve said many times, if other states don’t want this funding, Washington state is ready to put it to work,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said. “We’ve been committed to expanding and improving high-speed passenger rail not just to increase convenience for passengers, but to promote Washington state as a great place to visit and live. These rail lines take cars off our roads while moving workers and tourists between Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. These federal funds are an investment in our economy, and support hundreds of construction and operating jobs in our state.”

76 Replies to “Florida rejects HSR money, may come to Washington”

  1. That’s good news for us. With the new funding coming in, is there any chance that we might expand our project and go beyond what we currently have planned? Maybe more dedicated tracks and increased speed?

    1. There is no guarantee yet that WSDOT will get any additional funding from what Florida rejected; keep in mind that California, Illinois and Iowa have active HSR projects, New York got some additional funds after Wisconson and Ohio bailed, and there’s always the possibility that the Northeast Corridor could have capital improvements funded — I can see Amtrak claiming that this would be a windfall towards kicking off their trans-Hudson Gateway Project.

      1. Washington does not have any “High Speed” rail projects.

        They have standard rail improvement projects that say, allow a train to go from 40 mph to 80 mph. Also, since these are existing tracks, the chief beneficiary is BNSF — who is essentially getting a subsidy disguised as a public work. Moreover, the reason Florida rejected the bait (I mean stimulus, I mean money) is because they would be on the hook for any “cost overruns” (heard of that before…yeah…).

        I am for HSR. Real HSR. But HSR starts at 200 mph and has to have its own, new track…not run on 1950s freight tracks.

        I think we should put all our eggs in one basket and build one really, really good HSR line, that serves a lot of people It could be California. It could be Washington. If Washington were to build real HSR.

      2. After New Jersey’s rejection of the ARC tunnel, I don’t quite see why the Feds would take the risk in moving the Florida rejected funds to a NJ project.

        Secondly, when Ohio and Wisconsin rejected their HSR funding, it was redistributed to other applications that had been made for ARRA grants back in 2009, not to entirely new plans. It’s likely that LaHood will do the same again, and redistribute to more fully fund those ARRA era applications.

        WSDOT has as good a chance as any, better really given Amtrak Cascades improving ridership performance in 2010, of getting additional funding rewarded for the projects already applied for but not yet funded.

      3. @John: My apologies for mis-using the “HSR” label; as far as I’m concerned, compared to what we have now in most regions of this country, anything in triple digits is “high-speed.” Is true HSR a laudable goal? Yes. Is it a practical goal given current funding constraints? Not necessarily in all areas.

        WSDOT’s PNWRC program has long been clearly stated to be a series of incremental improvements that will, over the life of the program (initially planned for 25 years), create a passenger rail system connecting the major I-5 corridor cities with a mode competitive against both air and road travel, which can be constructed at a reasonable cost with taxpayer dollars using existing rights-of-way. The benefits to BNSF also directly benefits the passenger trains: Increasing BNSF’s ability to move their freight trains without blocking the tracks needed for the free flow of Amtrak trains increases reliability of the Cascades service. That’s the entire rationale behind the Vancouver Bypass project, which to the casual observer would appear to have zero benefit to the taxpayer since most of the trackwork is being done away from the mainline tracks utilized by Amtrak.

        Also, did you not take the time to read the second paragraph in The Transport Politic’s piece, which states:

        Numerous private corporations — including international conglomerates such as Siemens, Alstom, and JR East — have indicated that they would be willing to pick up the state’s tab and cover construction and operations risks, in exchange for the right to operate the trains.

        So, the feds fund the big chunk, the DBFOM consortium assumes the rest of the costs and risk… Which leaves exactly what for Florida to “be on the hook for”?

      4. “Secondly, when Ohio and Wisconsin rejected their HSR funding, it was redistributed to other applications that had been made for ARRA grants back in 2009, not to entirely new plans. It’s likely that LaHood will do the same again, and redistribute to more fully fund those ARRA era applications.”

        Some of these funds are also from the FY 2009 appropriation which requires matching dollars. ARRA grants did not require a state match, but some states, e.g. California, chose to match, which imporved the ranking of their projects.

      5. I meant FY2010 appropriation, not FY2009. The breakdown of the Florida awards is:

        ARRA $2,654M
        FY10 $808M
        other $342M

        Other is the reallocated OH and WI money, which I think was all from ARRA grants.

  2. Can STB elaborate on the FRA objection to WSDOT’s plans? I don’t understand what’s going on there.

    1. At its most fundamental level, the FRA and Amtrak want WSDOT/BNSF — to whom the funds will be awarded and by whom be spent — to be wholly responsible for all delays to Amtrak trains, regardless of cause; the penalty would be reimbursement of a portion of the awarded funds. This is patently unfair to WSDOT/BNSF as there are many external sources for delay, some of which would not be their fault, yet they would be penalized for late-running trains. From reading the Trains piece Zed linked, it appears the impasse between the parties is FRA/Amtrak insisting on these draconian delay/penalty clauses, and WSDOT/BNSF not being able to comprehend why the federal folks won’t consider the logic of their counterarguments.

  3. All I can say, is their loss. Hopefully California gets some of the money as well as Washington – their plans seem pretty impactive.

    1. Additional funds for CA that would allow the initial HSR phase to reach a larger population center would help fight the “train to nowhere” anti-HSR campaign that’s been ongoing down there.

    2. Seems as though when these states say “no thanks” to this HSR funding, Washington state always wins at least a small piece of the pie the other states give up.

      Is it because we have a pro-transit Governor, Senators and US Reps or is it because we already have plans in place to use that money on expansion?

      1. Probably both.

        I’m actually a bit stunned. Gregoire almost sounded pro-transit for a second. I clearly have to have my eyes and ears checked.

      2. Washington is being very shrewd about this. By using an incremental approach we’re getting HSR funds to improve freight mobility (getting trucks of the road) and improve the level of passenger service. If Cascades can run at 110mph it would cut the travel time in half. That’s nice in competing against a car, van or bus but the big benefit is that it effectively doubles the availability of your train sets for about the same labor costs. Increased frequency would be huge. I also would expect the increased fuel cost to be negligible since once a train is up to speed it’s very efficient. With extra trips an express becomes viable which might actually present a net increase in fuel efficiency.

      3. I think the fact that we have plans in place, and have spent a few hundred million of our own money makes a big difference. Washington state is committed to improving passenger rail. Other states would like the money, or need it to get started, but WSDOT is much further down that path than many states.

        Too bad the Canadians are not improving the rail line north of the border.

  4. What great news! California will probably get a large share, but I am very curious what this will do in relation to timing / expansion like what Jason said. When will trains to Portland be a better option for more than a single car driver? I hate that it is still more economical for two to drive to Portland than take the train (and it adds what, almost 2 hours).

    1. Travel time can be highly variable, especially on the weekends. Plus, you can have a beer on the train – can’t say the same for driving!

    2. It’s 3 hours from Seattle to Portland by car, and 3 1/2 by train. The scheduled (but not fully funded) improvements will bring that down to 3 hours and maybe even below. The speed limit is 79 but the train runs slower than that in some segments due to fixable problems. The “high-speed rail” goal for Cascades is 110 mph, but it will first have to get to 79 and then 90.

      Above that are levels of 125, and 200+ mph but the costs rise exponentially at each level. Many people including me thing 2 1/2 to 3 hours is fast enough for Cascades, and that we should spend the difference on urban transit and lines to eastern Washington. True HSR to California is decades away.

      Re the sugestion in the other thread to put the Florida money into eastern Washington lines now, I don’t think that’s possible because the lines aren’t even designed yet. I think this grant is for “shovel ready” projects.

      1. The train actually takes 3h 15mins, they add some buffer at the end to make sure the trains are on time, but they usually arrive 15 mins early.

    3. [Ty] The train is sooo close to being competitive right now. Shaving off some time and building enough ridership to cut costs would easily get us there.

      Assuming downtown – downtown, for a 4-hour business meeting.
      Google says 3 hours, or 3.5 hours in traffic. 174 miles of driving each way.
      AAA tells me this trip would cost $98.48 for this trip (wear on an average car, fuel, etc.)
      Parking is at least $3 an hour, so make that $12.
      Assume no extra time needed for parking.

      Total: 3 – 3.5 hours, $110

      3.5 hour trip.
      $60 each, round trip.

      Total: 3.5 hours, $120

      1. There’s the issue of delays, which for some people turn people off rail more than cars. It’s a weird effect that seems counter-intuitive (car delays effect people’s mood more negatively). This money will help stave off delays as well.

      2. There’s also a reason that drive between Seattle and Portland is called the slog… it’s really no fun. I’ve done it a bunch, and trying to stay awake and safe on a dark rainy boring I-5, let alone trying to keep your nerves when you hit a 10-mile traffic jam at Centralia or Tacoma is pretty close to what I envision hell to be like.

        It takes a really big cost or time differential (or a need for a car at the other end) to make that drive worth it.
        – Cost only plays out if you have a full car (cheap) or are travelling on a weekend or holiday (expensive).
        – A really easy way to have a big time penalty is if a train doesn’t leave when you need/want to leave.
        If we did nothing but make for hourly departures both ways, I think you’ve gone a long way. Frequent departures would lessen the huge and ridiculous markup that comes on weekends and especially holidays. Frequent departures would also allow you to make your trip closer to the exact time you want to make it.

      3. You have to factor in the time to get from home to station. If by transit that could be quite long depending on where and when. If you drive to the Station then you’ve still got parking and driving expense. Then there’s the frequency factor which often means the real time investment is much longer than just travel time. As an offset to that though is that you can do work (or play) on the train trip. No so if you drive alone but if you share the driving at least one person can. As for expense, if you’ve got a car load the expense is divided by the number of people. On the train the expense is multiplied by the number of people in your party.

      4. [Bernie] Yes – a large assumption was downtown-to-downtown. If you live in the suburbs or are going to the suburbs, it’s definately faster to drive.

        I’d still personally take the train for comfort reasons, or if under a time crunch I’d fly. As someone else pointed out, that drive sucks.

      5. Pro for train:
        Those 6 hrs on the train can be productive work time. There is WiFi and power for your laptop. So not only is the transportation cost comparable, the cost/work benefit is excellent.

    4. I hate that it is still more economical for two to drive to Portland than take the train…….

      whats there to hate?

      1. Hmm… I find train travel to be more spacious, more relaxing, safer and a more efficient use of resources than going by car. Plenty of reasons to hate that going by car is more economical than taking the train.

      2. I don.t know…. Everytime i take that drive, i get held up in the same places

        1. Fife to downtown Tacoma

        2. The military bases

        3. The Nisqually flats

        4. Just south of Olympia

        5. The stretch of I-5 between the Columbia River and downtown Portland.

        It must be my bad road karma or something, but it always takes me four hours to get to Portland by car.

  5. If what is in this article is true, we may be counting our chickens before they are hatched. There is a distinct possibility we won’t be getting ANY MONEY, even what we’ve already been awarded.
    (article originally posted by Zed in News Roundup)

    Even if the already promised money comes through, I have to wonder if the whole experience isn’t going to sour the FRA on giving WashDOT more money. That would be really bad news now that earmarks are going away so we can’t rely on Patty to give us the hook up.

    1. This stuff seems completely mad to me. We have a $1.3 trillion deficit (about 27% of spending), and 80% of spending is one of

      1) Medicare
      2) Social Security
      3) Defense.

      So where are we going to close the deficit? By cutting the other 20% obviously!


      1. And the Social Security part isn’t driving the deficit because it’s mostly paid for. (For FY 2009, the federal DOT budget alone was bigger than the annual shortfall in Social Security, by 50-300% depending upon what you count as a Social Security shortfall.)

        The big deficit-driving items are Medicare/Medicaid (the costs of which exceed the payroll taxes collected) and military spending (which has no independent funding sources.)

        I’m all for not cutting transit funding and I know this is a transit blog but we don’t need to attack fiscally sound non-transit programs to save transit funding. The real problem is plain lack of funding for everything, but if we’re worried about the spending side of deficits it’s health care spending and the military that are the culprits.

      2. You left out a big ticket item that in a few years will exceed all spending on security and that’s interest on the debt. In fact even if we stop deficit spending in this budget a rise to historically average interest rates would put us there already.

      3. The problem with Social Security funding has always been that it relies on the current generation of workers to pay the current retirees. As life expectancy rises, the baby boomers retire and the average wage and birth rate fall the scam completely falls apart. You’re not paying into your Social Security account; you’re funding you parents account. Meaning, that when you retire the money is already spent, gone, poof…

      4. i’m all for social security but it is literally a ponzi scheme. look up the definition for it, its the same model as SS. of course by making it compulsory its supposed to perpetuate it (except for living longer and population booms and busts).

        but i agree with andrew, this is BS, focus on cutting where it actually will do a difference like one of those 3.

      5. how will the govt overcome the deficit you claim and not shut down??

        what process will keep the govt running if they dont cut??

      6. This whole deficit argument is fraught with panic and misinformation. It took us 10 years to dig this hole (2 unfunded wars, Medicare Part D, tax cuts) and it will take ten years to dig us out (cut defense, prosecute medicare fraud, raise taxes).

        I, for one, welcome our new deficit overlords. They’ll be here for a while.

      7. Boy, there’s a whole lot of ignorance and mis-information about Social Security going on here. What do you expect from a nation of fiscal illiterates who have the reading comprehension skills of a 7th Grader?

        Some facts,,,,,

        1.) Social Security was always intended to have the current workforce fund the current retirees.

        2.) One of the few good things Reagan did was to increase the FICA tax to account for the baby boomers.

        3.) The Social Security trust fund is primarilly US treasury bonds. Therefore, it is solvent. If we were to default on US treasury bonds, the world economy would collapse, so we’re not going to default.

        4.) the Social Security trust fund has a huge surplus, as Reagan planned. If we do absolutely nothing to it, it will pay out full benefits until 2042 or thereabouts, and 70% for fifty years after that, before returning to full funding,

        5.) If you remove the earnings cap on Social Security, the fund is fixed for eternity.

        And btw, life expectancy in the US is actually falling a bit, so you can stop wringing your hands over that propaganda.

        So no, it’s not a “ponzi scheme”. Serious-minded people of normal intelligence don’t use right-wing talking points.

      8. Yes, lets……

        “Forecasts of life expectancy are an important component of public policy that influence age-based entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Although the Social Security Administration recently raised its estimates of how long Americans are going to live in the 21st century, current trends in obesity in the United States suggest that these estimates may not be accurate. From our analysis of the effect of obesity on longevity, we conclude that the steady rise in life expectancy during the past two centuries may soon come to an end.

        2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.

        Google is best used by those who know how to use it.

      9. That’s brilliant. A six year old study that has born out to show life expectancy still rising and people are less healthy. If you’ve been working long enough you’ve gotten those nice little reports from SS that show your account and how much you’ll receive based on what age you retire. It’s all a shame, you have no account (there is no “lock box”) which is why it can never be privatized. But, if it could be imagine the nice nest egg you’d have if 15% of your earned income had been collecting compound interest over 40+ years. Yes Virgina, it is a 15% flat tax on earned income.

      10. Hmmm. Let’s see….. A six year old article from a respected medical source (which, when statistics about what’s happening right now are available, will probably prove it right) versus the first result you get when you google something moronic like “US life expectancy”….. Which is more credible?

        Depends on how desparate you are to affirm what some fat millionare on AM radio, or a cable channel for the perpetually naive told you is true, I suppose. Sheep may not be bright, but they are certainly loyal.

  6. moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney!
    (to quote Toy Story)

    So this means 2 hours to Portland? Are trains competing with cars or should we jump straight to planes?

    1. Cars are a better comparison. Planes are more expensive and less convenient when comparing downtown to downtown, while taking about as long. Where they beat trains is frequency – we need more trainsets! (and permission to run them)

    2. @biliruben “2 hours to Portland?”

      Maybe 2.5 hours by 2020. Speeds in excess of 125MPH, which a 2 hour trip would necessarily require, would require extraordinarily expensive changes to the current ROW and probably some segments of new track.

    3. WSDOT’s 20-year-plan has always been 110mph, 2.5-hour Seattle-Portland service. Given Link & MAX transit times + going through airport security, this would be a faster downtown-to-downtown trip than flying.

      1. Add-on: If I correctly recall the ultimate build-out schedule I saw a few years ago, the plan is to have 16 round-trips/day in the SEA-PDX corridor — basically, hourly for most of the day, with an increased interval in the overnight hours — and 8 r/t in the SEA-VBC corridor. Total project cost was ~$6.5B in 2006 USD.

    4. are trains even competing with anything???

      i dont see private powered-railcars leaving rail-garages and driveways in the mornings by the thousands to go anywhere.

      1. Perhaps… because that infrastructure doesn’t exist? It seems you fail to understand that, fundamentally, rail is inherently a backbone network, taking advantage of multimodal transportation for both freight and passenger traffic to move large volumes over long distances efficiently. The customer delivers the cargo (person) to the nearest railhead (station), and the railroad then moves the commodity to a central hub near many possible destinations, to which the commodity is then transported by another mode (truck, barge, foot, bicycle, bus…).

      2. are airplanes even competing with anything???

        i dont see private aircraft leaving hangars and runways in the mornings by the thousands to go anywhere.

  7. I certainly would like to see Washington State get the money other governors have rejected, but I’d like to see something else as well:

    I’d like to see us accept this money with a strong public declaration that the railroads we build with it will also belong to the people of states like Florida and Ohio, in spite of their current chief executives- who are, after all, temporary employees of small parts of a much larger enterprise.

    How big should the Federal government of the United States be? Big enough to be the instrument with which more than 300 million people build themselves the things they need to make life worthwhile.

    Just as Dwight Eisenhower- whom the far right also considered a traitor- thought of the US Government when he signed the National Defense Highway Act. I forget- did any governors of either party refuse the money for that?

    Mark Dublin

    1. in spite of their current chief executives…….

      didnt the founders of the enterprise want a smaller less intrusive federal govt??

  8. I’m thinking this next round should be redistributed to the Northeast since many people know the value of rail transportation. Florida was not very smart rejecting this funding and I am sure they will regret it when the gas pulls $5 per gallon

  9. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) announced plans to abandon the state’s high-speed rail project that would have linked Tampa to Orlando. The cancellation means that $2.4B in federal money already committed to the project ………

    is that true??

    1. Yes. I’m sure that in the time it took you to scribble out a whole bunch of responses to this post, you could have done just a wee bit of internet research to discover many of these answers for yourself.

  10. China is building high speed rail, Central Europe and Russia are constently expanding their network, Japan has a very extensive rail network. Its big news when DB announces London-Amsterdam and London-Frankfurt through trains, and in the US we cant even get our Higher Speed Rail money to improve the modest service we have. America is quickly falling behind in being a world leader, the citizens and politicans have to wake up, sadly i think it will be a day late and a dollar short when they do…. /end of rant

  11. Where high speed rail money has been spent

    Chicago-St. Louis: This route, which passes through Springfield and Bloomington, Ill., received $1.1 billion to make the existing Amtrak service faster.

    To do this, improvements are being made that include laying new track, updating signals, building new stations, and buying new railcars and locomotives.

    The improvements are expected to boost average speeds from 53 to 63 miles per hour, shaving nearly an hour off what is now a 5-hour and 20-minute trip, according to Ken Orski, publisher of the infrastructure industry publication Innovation NewsBriefs and a former transportation official in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

    High speed…63 mph…choo-choo…woo-woo…

    1. That’s an average speed. We all want real high speed rail, and I’d say increasing average speed by 10 mph is working in the right direction.

      Would I support real high-speed electric rail in all major corridors? Hell yes. But I’ll take what I can get.

  12. We could use it to build a new Cascades train Tunnel. From what i understand the old one is pretty much maxed out in use.

    1. The Cascade Tunnel is not on the PNWRC, and any replacement besides being very expensive would not benefit passenger rail. There are only two passenger trains that pass through it daily. If BNSF decides that they need to add capacity, it will be up to them to figure out how to improve it and pay for it. Their money would be better spent improving the Stampede Tunnel and the tracks on either side of it.

  13. It sounds like Scott is just another Republican trying to make Obama look bad and fail in the next elections, ie, his decision was purely political. Scott abandoned his initial wait on private sector investment proposals, he mislead the Florida congress on his timeline and he followed other Republican’s lead on how the money should alternatively be spent. How can he say that the government should not be spending (wasting) this money on rail and yet turn-around and say we should be spending (wasting) it on ports because of the widening of the Panama Canal. Granted Florida is vital for US exports to South and Latin America but far more jobs will be created with rail investment. “Florida is the top travel destination in the world. The tourism industry has an economic impact of $57 billion on Florida’s economy”. Scott boast a business background and yet the company he left behind was raided by the FBI and charged with countless claims of fraud. Who is this guy trying to fool! Wait until gas is $5.00/gal and Florida has added another 10 million residents…what a moron.

  14. What HSR money?

    Three days after Vice President Joe Biden touted the magical balm of high-speed trains, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers released the continuing resolution for the balance of fiscal year 2011.
    It cut the rest of this fiscal year’s high-speed rail funds, rescinded $3.5 billion appropriated in previous fiscal years but still unspent, and rescinded $3.75 billion in unspent transportation money from the 2009 stimulus, almost all of it from Mr. Obama’s high-speed rail plan.

    1. You’re quoting an Op/Ed by Karl Rove?

      Just b/c the House Appropriations Committee Chairman wants something cut, doesn’t mean it will be. Until it is signed into law by the President, it isn’t law. I have a feeling even if does make it out of the House AND Democratically controlled Senate (unlikely IMO) WashDOT and the FRA will have found a solution and gotten the money to the State before Obama would sign into law (if he even would).

      You think Obama will really let them take away money he has already secured for one of his favorite projects?!?!

      1. Bernie is Bellevue through and through.

        As soon as Republicans stop hating on social issues, Bellevue and the burbs will be solid Republican again. After all, they already complain about taxes while mooching off of the tax base of a city with actual industry and nearly as much commercial space in one office building as in their entire city.

      2. Bernie is Bellevue through and through.

        I don’t take any offense from that and I probably fit your stereotype. But Bellevue is a diverse place. Which is why the City Council tips back and forth in a 3/4 split. About half the people have views very different than mine but still consider themselves Bellevue through and through.

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