The high speed rail quandry

The future of high speed rail in America continues to be uncertain. Before a last minute vote by a senate committee to restore $100 million for the program, Congress was ready to vote in September to cut all funding for high speed rail programs. But this is only a fraction of the $2 billion a year spent by Congress on the high speed rail program under the Passenger Rail Investment Act (PRIA).

California, which is the only state working to build a new alignment for high speed trains, has suffered multiple setbacks in its efforts to establish a line between Los Angeles and San Fracisco. A recent peer review of the rail plan refused to recommend that any bond money be devoted to the project, citing a lack of “credible sources of adequate funding.” A study by the group found that ridership projections for the $98 billion project were inaccurate and overly optimistic. In addition, the project has been hit by the resignations of Roelof van Ark, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Chairman Tom Umberg. However, California Governor Jerry Brown continues to be supportive of the project and plans to seek legislative approval for new state funding. Promising a revamped business plan for the project in his State of the State speech, he said that construction would begin in 2012.

High speed rail continues to be on the agenda in several other states. New York Senator Charles Schumer called on stakeholders to quickly complete a plan for the construction of a high speed rail line from Buffalo to Albany. Wisconsin and Minnesota are in talks with Amtrak officials to expand current passenger train services between the cities of Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In Michigan, a supplemental spending bill was approved that will allow federal funds to be used for fast-track improvements along the planned high speed rail line between Detroit and Chicago.