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Obama to give 13 areas $8 billion for high speed rail

(Bloomberg News circulated the following story by Angela Greiling Keane on January 27, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — California will get $2.3 billion and Florida $1.3 billion to help build high-speed passenger-train service, the biggest winners among 31 states sharing $8 billion in rail grants from the U.S. economic stimulus package.

President Barack Obama will be in Tampa today at an event to announce the awards, most of which will go toward developing or laying the groundwork for 13 new high-speed rail corridors across the country, the administration said in a statement.

The funding, from the $787 billion stimulus plan approved last year, is one of a number of programs Obama will lay out in coming weeks aimed at spurring jobs, the administration said. Vice President Joseph Biden, who commuted by Amtrak between Delaware and Washington when he was a senator, will travel with Obama for the announcement at a town hall-style meeting.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,” Obama said yesterday in his State of the Union speech, citing Florida’s rail development. “There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services and information.”

High-speed rail funding in the stimulus may improve “terrible” U.S. passenger-train service, Biden told a meeting of state governors at the White House in June.

Amtrak’s Acela trains, made by Alstom SA and Bombardier Inc., operate on the Northeast Corridor at an average speed of about 83 miles per hour (134 kph), including time spent at stops and slowing for curves, said Steven Kulm, an Amtrak spokesman. The trains reach a speed of 150 mph, Kulm said.

Bullet Trains

By comparison, Central Japan Railway Co.’s Shinkansen “bullet trains” run at 168 mph, according to the company’s Web site. Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, the French state railroad company, can run its TGV trains at 200 miles mph, according to its Web site. Shanghai spent $1.25 billion building the world’s fastest train in commercial operation, a 267 mph magnetic-levitation ride to its main airport.

A small portion of the $8 billion will go to improvements in existing rail lines, including $17 million to upgrade Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. tracks in Iowa, according to the White House.

The U.S. will give $1.1 billion for a line connecting Chicago and St. Louis, according to a White House. Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston will get $112 million.

Other corridors receiving high-speed rail money include lines between Minneapolis and Chicago; Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington; Seattle and Eugene, Oregon; Cleveland and Cincinnati; Detroit and Chicago; New Haven, Connecticut, and St. Albans, Vermont; New York and Buffalo, New York; Portland and Brunswick, Maine; and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Applications Surge

The Federal Railroad Administration said it received 45 applications requesting $50 billion in aid, and delayed the awards from last year to handle a greater number of requests than expected.

“It looks to me like they’re doing it right,” Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association in New York, said in an interview before the White House announced the spending details. “They’re front-loading investment in some corridors that are ready to go. Certainly Chicago and Los Angeles and to a lesser degree the Florida project have the transit links and walkable downtowns.”

The U.S. decision to disburse the money widely drew criticism as well. Spreading it to 31 states means no corridor will get enough to fully fund the creation of high-speed rail service, Ron Utt, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said in an interview.

Strapped States

“You really don’t have enough money to really do anything other than lots of surveys, maybe some land acquisition, engineering studies and all that sort of stuff,” Utt said. “Unless more federal money is forthcoming in the future, these places are still going to struggle for resources because the states are in even worse condition than the federal government.”

Companies that manufacture train and rail components may benefit from the spending. General Electric Co. and Siemens AG are among 32 manufacturers that pledged last year, at the behest of the Transportation Department, to establish U.S. rail- manufacturing operations or expand their domestic workforce if they get some of the rail funding. States will allocate after they receive it.

Central Japan Railway, which owns Japan’s largest maker of bullet trains, and Hitachi Ltd. are among Japanese companies that have begun targeting export sales, including to the U.S.

GE, the world’s biggest maker of freight locomotives, is developing engines for passenger trains that could operate at 124 mph, said Stephan Koller, a spokesman for the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company’s transportation unit. GE announced a partnership with China’s Ministry of Railways in November to manufacture equipment for high-speed rail projects in the U.S.

“We are going to support any state that wants to do high- speed rail,” Koller said today in an interview.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

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