Monthly Archives: April 2011

Competition for Florida HSR Money Heats Up

Amtrak’s request for $1.3B in Federal HSR funding is facing competition from states across the country. Yesterday’s April 4 deadline to apply for Florida’s $2.4B in rejected HSR money saw submissions from California, New York, and Connecticut (and potentially others).

New York

New York’s application includes funding for eight projects throughout the state. While the majority of the projects are focused on the Empire Corridor, two projects could have significant impacts on the NEC and trans-Hudson rail service:

  1. The final design of Moynihan Station Phase 2 ($49.8M). Phase 1, which is funded and broke ground, includes the construction of new train platforms underneath the planned station. Phase 2 includes the renovations of the Farley Post Office into a passenger hall above the tracks.
  2. Reconstruction of Harold Interlocking ($294M). Currently NEC trains en route to Penn Station must cross Long Island Rail Road tracks in Queens creating delays and congestion. The new interlocking would separate movements of the two operations to ensure reliability and improve travel time.

California

As detailed above, California’s application includes a request for $2.4B in funding.$1.44B will enable the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to complete the “backbone” of the project, the 220MPH line from Bakserfield to Merced.

California has already benefited from the spate of HSR project cancelations. In December 2010, the Authority received $624M ofre-distributed funds from Ohio and Wisconsin’s canceled projects. In total, the state received nearly $4B in federal HSR funding in 2010 (including $2.35B from the initial round of Federal HSR grants in January, $194M in September, and additional $715M in October).

Likely Funding for Amtrak and the NEC

California’s success in securing federal grants is evidence of the state’s commitment to the project. And yet, as an increasing number of states are dropping their plans for HSR, the DOT cannot focus all of its investment on one state alone.

The DOT’s designation of the NEC as a HSR corridor just three weeks ago is a strong indication that the line will receive Federal support. Amtrak’s application is made stronger by the fact that the Portal Bridge project is shovel-ready and it enjoys the support of Governor Chris Christie. Overall, the NEC and California are the United States’ best opportunity for achieving successful HSR service. Both should receive some of Florida’s $2.4B.

Correction: Christie Pledges State Support of Portal Bridge Replacement

This afternoon, Amtrak requested $1.3B in HSR funding for the NEC. Amtrak’s request included $570M from the Federal government and $150M from the state of NJ for the replacement of the Portal Bridge. As reported on NorthJersey.com by Herb Jackson, Chris Christie has pledged state support of the Portal Bridge Project.

A 2009 Rendering of the Portal Bridge Replacement.

On Friday, April 1, Christie sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood declaring the state’s support of the project. According to Jackson, Christie is supporting the project on the grounds that is shovel-ready and will produce jobs:

“The bridge is beyond its useful life, which is reflected in high maintenance costs and frequent failures, and resulting train delays,” . . . “Moreover, this project, which can commence almost immediately, will create approximately 6,000 much-needed jobs.”


According to Jackson, Christie continued to stress that the Federal Government must lead the project – and take the risk of potential cost over-runs:

“Amtrak realizes significant operating profits on the Northeast Corridor, which helps to subsidize its operations in other regions of the country,” Christie wrote. “This important distinction justifies both federal and state spending on high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects in both New Jersey and the Northeast Corridor.”

Christie’s support will be critical in assuaging a nervous Department of Transportation. After the failures of Florida and Ohio, the DOT will be wary of sending money where it is not supported by local governors.

Christie’s full letter is not yet available online. It will be posted here when it is available.

Amtrak Takes Lead on Gateway – Applies for HSR Funding

According to a press release today, Amtrak has formally applied for $1.3B in funding for the Gateway and HSR on the Northeast Corridor.  Amtrak’s move was not unexpected, since just three weeks ago, the Federal government designated the NEC as a HSR corridor, making the line eligible for HSR funding — including the recently rejected funds from Florida.

The request inclues money for three Gateway-related projects:

In addition, Amtrak is planning $450M investments on the NEC from Philadelphia to NYC, its busiest stretch of track on the corridor. Investments include upgrades to the signaling system and overhead catenary wires to support speeds up to 160mph (up from the stretch’s current maximum of 125mph). Investments in the catenary wires are critical, especially since a catenary failure in December 2010 between Newark, NJ, and NYC caused major regional and local delays.

What’s most interesting is that the Portal Bridge request includes a $150M request to the state of NJ. Chris Christie’s recently announced transportation budget for FY2012 includes no such funding, nor does the recent funding proposals by the Port Authority. The move on the Portal Bridge project comes after almost a year of virtual dormancy on the project. The last dollar spent on the project was $38.5M on final design in January 2010, back when the ARC tunnel was still under construction.

Christie’s 2012 Five-Year Capital Plan for NJ Transit does not explicitly earmark any funds for the Portal Bridge project (though the project is eligible under the funding category Transit Rail Initiatives which is set to receive only a paltry 28M over five years).

NJ’s commitment aside, Amtrak’s plans would be good news for trans-Hudson commuters. In a speech at MIT on March 11, 2011, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman argued that improving commuter operations between NY and NJ is essential to its vision for High Speed Rail on the NEC. Boardman argued that, “when commuter services get investment, high speed services get operational fluidity.” He explained that the Gateway project and investments associated with Moynihan station will improve movements for NJ Transit trains underneath Penn Station. The result will be less congestion and more reliable service for NJT and for Amtrak’s increased HSR services – not to mention an increase for NJT from 25 to 38 trains per hour in the peak period.

Despite Amtrak’s commitment to breaking the NY-NJ bottleneck, numerous questions remain. While the Feds designation of the NEC for HSR suggests a good likelihood of the proposal receiving some funding, continued arguments about federal transportation spending obscure a bigger picture of the future. In the mean time, Boardman’s nod to regional commuters is more than welcome, since local support will be necessary to get Gateway in the ground.