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President Obama Outlines Vision and Plan for US High-Speed Passenger Rail System; $13B to Start

The envisioned high-speed rail corridors. Source: DOT. Click to enlarge.

President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, released a strategic vision and plan for a high-speed passenger rail (HSR) system in the US. The plan identifies $8 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ARRA and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as the components of an initial %13 billion investment.

The strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. By late summer, the Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding the first round of grants. Additional funding for long-term planning and development is expected from legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs.

Energy efficiency of passenger transportation modes. Source: DOT. Click to enlarge.

The plan notes that rail is already among the cleanest and most energy-efficient of the passenger transportation modes. A future HSR/IPR (high-speed rail/intercity passenger rail) network using new diesel or electric power can further enhance rail’s advantages. According to a 2006 study cited by the Administration, implementation of pending plans for the federally designated HSR corridors could result in an annual reduction of 6 billion pounds of CO2 (2.7 MMTCO2).

The near-term investment strategy seeks to:

  • Advance new express high-speed corridor services (operating speeds above 150 mph (241 km/h) on primarily dedicated track) in select corridors of 200-600 miles (322-966 km).

    (As examples from other countries, China runs trains on its 114 km Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Rail line at a top speed of 217 mph (350 km/h) and is buying 100 350 km/h trains for the upcoming Beijing-Shanghai corridor. (Earlier post.) Spain is also placing trains (the AVE Series 103, from Siemens) with a maximum speed of 350 km/h in service on selected corridors. Japan’s Shinkansen links most major cities at speeds up to 186 mph (300 km/h).)

  • Develop emerging and regional high-speed corridor services (operating speeds up to 90-110 mph (145-177 km/h) and 110-150 mph (177-241 km/h) respectively, on shared and dedicated track) in corridors of 100-500 miles (161-805 km).

  • Upgrade reliability and service on conventional intercity rail services (operating speeds up to 79-90 mph (127-145 km/h)).

The plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail; the other would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster.

The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding:

  • California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
  • 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)

In addition, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston) to compete for funds for improvements to the existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.

The Obama Administration is urging states and local communities to put together plans for a network of 100 mile to 600 mile corridors, which will compete for the federal dollars. The merit-driven process will result in federal grants as soon as late summer 2009.

Under the plan, high-speed rail development will advance along three funding tracks:

  • Individual Projects. Providing grants to complete individual projects that are “ready to go” with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work – with an emphasis on near term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities and equipment.

  • Corridor programs. Developing entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives.

  • Planning. Entering into cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non-American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) appropriations funds. This third approach is intended to help establish a structured mechanism and funding stream for future corridor development activities.




Last minute thought: If race car drivers can go around a track, drsfting each other at +200mph, with only inches of separation, and constantly changing places, what makes a computer controled system that hard to do?


I think I'd get a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun for self-defense if I had to ride a train or bus on a regular basis. Also, they MUST figure out a way to ensure tracks are free and clear of debris, or if there are obstructions, and means to notify the trains conductor or railway control center, so people aren't killed like in the MagLev crash in Germany a few years back.....



There's a lot of data available about various transportation modes energy efficiency.

Under typical real world use, with due consideration given to typical load factors, average waiting times etc a Very High Speed e-train (passenger-miles per gallon equivalent) is about 380 while it is barely 50 for the average aircraft. That is about 7.6:1 in favour of the e-train.

Under full load, the e-train does even better.

Under typical load, the Tesla does 246 and the Prius II does 96. The Prius III is expected to do about 108. However, with full passenger load it does as good as the Tesla (5 passengers versus 2).

Typical loads were established with real live operation data.

Some e-train commuter rail with many standees can do as much as 900 passenger-miles per gallon (equivalent).

In a few years, mini e-buses and mini e-cars, when fully loaded, may do almost as well as a typical very high speed e-rain. Will vehicle electrification pull passengers away from other modes? May be, if the speed or time are equivalent. Much higher speed e-trains may still have an advantage for mid-long distances.


In California, I would rather have a train to go from San Diego to L.A. than from L.A. to San Francisco. If I want to go to SFO, I will fly, but when the only way I have to get to L.A. is drive, I would rather not.


Any alternative to air travel and/or congested hwy's is welcome. If nothing else, it will reduce hwy traffic.
Amtrak has been a bust because of minimal commitment (crappy trains, crappy rails, etc). If upgraded, it would make a big difference.
Another bene, increased national security.


"Also, they MUST figure out a way to ensure tracks are free and clear of debris, or if there are obstructions, and means to notify the trains conductor or railway control center, so people aren't killed like in the MagLev crash in Germany a few years back....."

Already done! In fact what you're asking for was already done BEFORE the crash. That crash was a direct result of it being a testing facility. It just didn't have the safety procedures in place that are standard in a commercial operation.

On another note: That you feel you NEED for a 'concealed weapons permit to carry a gun for self-defense if you had to ride a train or bus on a regular basis' makes me feel the need for a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun for self-defense FROM YOU.

Will S

Long overdue. The 4-fold increase in energy efficiency over jet travel will help to reduce our dependence on oil imports. Plus, the trains could even be run on ammonia generated by wind power during excess wind timeframes;

DavidJ said:

if you increased the train speed and decreased the plane speed to the same then their efficiency would be very close.

I'd have to see the fluid dynamic calculations. It sounds like someone pulled something out of a dark place...

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