Northeast Wins Biggest Piece of Rail Grants Florida Rejected

Northeast wins Biggest Piece of Rail Grants
These funds will allow Amtrak to start bringing trains that can run 220 miles per hour to the Northeast Corridor. Photographer Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The U.S. government awarded $795 million to increase rail speeds between Boston and Washington, the largest share of the more than $2 billion in high-speed rail grants that Florida rejected in February.

Amtrak won $450 million, the U.S. Department of Transportation said in an e-mail statement today. The national passenger rail service got money to increase capacity and improve trip times between Philadelphia and New York. These funds will allow Amtrak to start bringing trains that can run 220 miles per hour to the Northeast Corridor.

“Amtrak made money last year, ridership was up last year - - they’re providing a good service,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. The investment in infrastructure and equipment “will make Amtrak a better system.”

While Amtrak’s net loss widened to $1.31 billion for the year ended September 2010, the Acela Express line that runs between Boston and Washington had revenue that exceeded operating expenses by 42 percent.

Trains between New York and Philadelphia will run as fast as 160 mph, Al Engel, Amtrak’s vice president for high-speed rail, said in an interview. Speeds on that segment will increase in three to five years, LaHood said on MSNBC today.

The U.S. expects Amtrak’s ridership to rise this year, LaHood said on Bloomberg Television today.

High-speed rail projects will create thousands of U.S. jobs, LaHood said.

Midwest, California

Midwestern states got $404.1 million and California won $300 million toward the 800-mile line it plans to build from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The department allocated $336.2 million for California and the Midwest to buy American-built rail cars and locomotives.

“I’m encouraged by those awards,” Thomas Hart, vice president for government affairs and general counsel for the Washington-based U.S. High Speed Rail Association, said in a telephone interview. “The Northeast Corridor had been lagging but now it is their turn” for significant funding.

He also praised the award of $196.5 million to Michigan to bring trains that can run 110 mph between Chicago and Detroit, reducing trip times by half an hour.

The grant “will bring jobs, it will bring innovation to the depressed Michigan market, and it will feed into the Chicago hub that will be the centerpiece” for high-speed rail service in the Midwest, he said.

Orlando to Tampa

Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted more than 90 applications by April 4 for a share of the high-speed rail grants Florida rejected.

Republican Governor Rick Scott returned the $2.4 billion Florida had been awarded to build a new high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa.

The April 15 budget deal between Congress and President Barack Obama to fund the government through September 30 cut $400 million from the rail account, leaving the Transportation Department with $2 billion to redistribute.

Congress and President Barack Obama have been debating his plan to connect 80 percent of the U.S. population to fast trains within 25 years. The high-speed rail program has received $10.1 billion since its creation in 2009. Obama wants to spend another $53 billion over the next six years, while Republicans in Congress are trying to eliminate the program.

Wisconsin, which returned $810 million last fall after Republican Scott Walker was elected governor, had sought $150 million to improve an existing line between Chicago and Milwaukee. It got nothing.

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