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Originally published Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 10:02 AM

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High-speed rail gets $8 billion boost; Northwest could benefit

President Obama backs high-speed rail corridors across U.S. with $ 8 billion from economic stimulus plan; Pacific Northwest could benefit with track improvements for faster train travel on Amtrak Cascades routes

The Associated Press


High-speed rail

Ten corridors the Obama administration had identified for possible high-speed rail projects:

— Pacific Northwest corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, B.C.)

— California corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)

— South Central corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)

— Gulf Coast corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)

— Chicago hub network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)

— Florida corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)

— Southeast corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)

— Keystone corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)

— Empire corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)

— Northern New England corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called Thursday for the country to move swiftly to a system of high-speed rail travel, saying it will relieve congestion, help clean the air and save on energy.

The president allocated $8 billion in the enormous $787 billion economic stimulus spending package for a start on establishing high-speed rail corridors nationwide that could include the Pacific Northwest. Amtrak Cascades runs trains from Eugene, Ore., through Portland and Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., and tracks could be improved for higher-speed rail travel.

Appearing with Vice President Joseph Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Obama said the country cannot afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. He said he understands it necessarily will be "a long-term project" but said the time to start is now.

The rail upgrades are critically needed, Obama said, because the nation's highways and airways "are clogged with traffic."

The money will go not only to high-speed rail development but also to a parallel effort to improve rail service along existing lines — upgrades that would allow faster train travel.

The White House said funding will move into the rail system through three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved and only in need of funding, thus providing jobs in the short term. The second and third would focus on high-speed rail planning and then a commitment to help in the execution of those plans far into the future when the stimulus funds are no longer available.

Transportation Department officials say about six proposed routes with federal approval for high-speed rail stand a good chance of getting some of the $8 billion award. The spurs include parts of Texas, Florida, the Chicago region, and southeast routes through North Carolina and Louisiana.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration says the term high-speed rail applies to trains traveling more than 90 mph. The European Union standard is above 125 mph.

Many overseas bullet trains — most powered by overhead electricity lines — run faster than that. In France, for example, the TGV ("Train a Grande Vitesse") covers the 250 miles between Paris and Lyon in one hour, 55 minutes at an average speed of about 133 mph.

In Japan, which opened the first high-speed rail in the 1960s and carries more passengers than any other country, the Japanese Shinkansen trains hurtle through the countryside at an average of about 180 mph.

Super-fast trains also run in Germany, Spain and China, at speeds up to 140 mph, according to a 2007 survey in the trade publication Railway Gazette.

The only rail service that qualifies under America's lower high-speed standard is Amtrak's 9-year-old Acela Express route connecting Boston to Washington, D.C.

The trains are built to reach speeds up to 150 mph, but only average about 80 mph because of curving tracks and slower-moving freight and passenger trains that share the route. On the densely traveled line from New York City to the nation's capital, the Acela arrives just about 20 minutes earlier than standard service, at more than twice the cost during peak travel times.

Kristin Jackson of Seattle Times Travel contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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