TOPIC: Federal Railroad Administration

High-speed regional trains zoom into California

Several new trains capable of considerably higher speed should begin plying the rails in California in about four years time, thanks to an infusion of federal cash, reports Tim Sheehan of The Fresno Bee.

California received 68 million dollars from the federal government to buy 15 new American passenger cars and four new U.S.-made locomotives for the state’s three regional rail routes. The funding is a portion of the $336 million worth of Recovery Act funding — economic stimulus money — awarded as federal matching funds to California and outright grants to Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri. (more…)

Los Angeles: a beacon of hope amid high-speed rail fog?

Headwinds  are building against California’s planned high-speed rail system, with congressional opponents attempting to kill funding, and new reports generating ever more negative rhetoric. That’s the  bottom line in Carolyn Lochhead’s piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meanwhile, though significant cuts to transportation funding — both for road construction and maintenance as well as mass-transit are likely in the coming transportation bill, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has introduced an innovative financing scheme aimed at speeding up transit construction.  Villaraigosa’s initiativemay become a nationwide program, according to Rick Orlov of the Torrance Daily Breeze.

Criticisms at the policy end of high-speed rail are hardly new. Here’s a standard sample: (more…)

California’s high-speed train project losing steam

Not even a bullet train can outrun a legal avalanche. The chances that California sees a high-speed rail system anytime in the 21st century is dwindling as an abundant crop of legal challenges pop up all along the proposed route.

Various entities are suing over where the train will or won’t go, while others are challenging projections and computer models used as the basis of winning voter approval for the sale of construction bonds. Meanwhile, one of the authority’s key board members has quit as the likelihood of further federal funding grows ever more remote. (more…)

Downbound train: Federal money headed for light rail line that’s heading nowhere

A planned billion-dollar-a-mile San Francisco light rail spur, to be built almost exclusively with federal dollars, should be scrapped, according to a stinging report from a civil grand jury which found the project wildly overpriced and hugely flawed, according to reporting by Rachel Gordon of the San Francisco Chronicle, Will Reisman of the San Francisco Examiner and in an un-bylined story on KTVU.

The report bashes the project’s inflating price tag, which has ballooned from $648 million eight years ago to $1.6 billion — this still one year before any construction even starts. (more…)

In California, critics not sure it’s the little train that could

Could it be a mirage?

California’s planned 800-mile bullet train system has been dodging flak from administration opponents since President Barack Obama announced his support. While the massive project has generated much skepticism, and many questions have been sloughed off as reflexively political.  But as Lance Williams of CaliforniaWatch reports, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, a prominent state Democratic leader, has some serious reservations — and we don’t mean tickets bought way in advance. (more…)

Plain language about managers at California’s high-speed rail system

More uncertainty is emerging about California’s planned $43 billion bullet train system, after a state report recommended a serious shakeup in the management and spending on the joint federal and state project.

As Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reports, California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office released a 28-page report raising serious doubts about both the decisions being made and the decision-makers themselves. The report urges that management of the entire project be stripped from its appointed board — the California High Speed Rail Authority — and turned over to the state Department of Transportation, more commonly known as Caltrans. (more…)

Hypothetically faster than a speeding bullet

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association has an ambitious vision of a 220-mph bullet train that would connect major Midwest cities, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch. But 2011 has already been a terrible year for the politics and federal funding of high-speed rail. Do recent setbacks make a bullet train politically unrealistic?

Working with the Siemens Corporation, the non-profit rail association looked at a number of possibilities for a Midwest bullet train and concluded that the 220-mph train would be the most expensive to build but yield the greatest return investment. (more…)

High speed rail funding leaves one coast for the other

A major windfall in federal funding offered to Florida for a new high speed rail effort, just might end up in America’s other sand-and-sun tourist destination — California.

Arguing that local matching funds and future operating and maintenance costs would be an albatross around Floridians’ necks, Florida’s Republican leadership recently rejected the $2.43 billion Washington offered for that state’s long planned fast train project. Now, according to Rich Connell of the Los Angeles Times, the race is on to get that money and California is hoping for a healthy slice, if not the whole pie. (more…)

Congress to Chicago: Let’s not cross that bridge when we come to it

Last year the Federal Railroad Administration gave Illinois $133 million to construct a rail bridge in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in order to eliminate “thousands of hours of delays each year for Metra and Amtrak riders.” This year, though, that money has been cut in the U.S. House’s just-passed budget, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch. Hilkevitch writes that the cut has “nothing to do with the merits of the project” but instead is about House Republicans’ pledge to reduce domestic spending. Illinois’ Dick Durbin, the no 2. Democrat in the Senate, goes a step farther and calls the lost bridge money a “mindless cut.”

Saddling up the Iron Horse in California

In what may be another windfall for California’s high speed rail project, Florida officials, led by that state’s governor yesterday rejected almost $2.5 billion in federal matching funds for a high speed rail link connecting Orlando and Tampa.

As Michael Doyle reports in The Sacramento Bee, that money could conceivably find its way into California’s coffers. Several months ago, after newly elected republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected federal money for high speed rail projects in their states, federal officials redirected the money to California. (more…)