Passenger-rail advocates scored big in the final stimulus bill, reflecting the Obama administration’s successful push to make the sector a priority.
The final bill contains $8 billion for “high speed” passenger-rail service, four times the amount allocated in the Senate version, and another $8 billion for public transportation. President Barack Obama wants to invest more in rail, and the White House had sought the increase.
The win bodes well for rail advocates heading into a major battle this year over transportation legislation that will determine federal spending on transportation over the next several years. A central question is expected to be how much to spend on rail and transit, and how much on highways and bridges. The current transportation-spending blueprint expires in September.
The proposed investment in “high-speed” service doesn’t mean Americans will soon be zipping between cities on bullet trains that travel at over 200 miles per hour. Rather, the focus will be on improving popular routes, such as the one between Chicago and St. Louis, where passenger trains often encounter delays because they share tracks with freight trains. Money will go into new tracks, signals and stations in these intercity corridors, with the aim of ensuring reliable service via trains traveling up to 110 miles an hour.
Overall under the stimulus bill, the Department of Transportation would channel more than $45 billion to state and local governments for highways and other transportation projects. Many state transportation leaders have said they will make ready-to-go projects, such as repair of existing roads, a top priority. But there are also likely to be fights among local politicians over what new roads and other projects to fund.