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DOT now taking private proposals for HSR corridors

Remember that part of this year’s Amtrak Reauthorization bill that mandated the government  look at private proposals creating high-speed service in the NEC and other federal HSR corridors? Well, in two press conferences yesterday at Penn Station and Washington DC’s Union Station, John Mica (R-FL), Mary Peters, and Michael Bloomberg announced that the DOT has officially started this process.

What does it mean? Not a whole lot right now. There’s nothing binding about the measure, the law only requires the DOT to take the proposals, any further moves would require another act of Congress, including, most importantly, funding. The Washington Post questions whether any organizations are going to put in the effort, considering the economic situation. It’s also a little bit unclear as to how any high-speed corridor would operate. Under Amtrak? The bidding company? Would it be subsidized? All of this would seem to depend on the nature of any given proposal and how Congress would implement it.

The Transport Politic points out the loose definition set for “high-speed” for these projects:

Proposals to be submitted will have to provide for the accomplishment of one or more of the following goals:

  • Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York must be completed in 2h or less.
  • All other eligible must have their current travel times reduced by at least 25%.

In other words, these goals would not result in many corridors in the production of high-speed rail. Travel times in almost all of the corridors listed above, even if reduced by 25%, would still be far too long. As a result, this request for proposals could provide better train service, but not necessarily great train service.

But as The Transport Politic later states, the rhetoric presented at the press conference envisions more ambitious ideas, such as maglev. Whether propoals fulfill these lofty goals, disappoint with modest speed increases, or materialize at all remains to be seen.

But hey, if Congress is looking for a good HSR plan to put money behind, how about the very tangible and doable Midwest HSR network?

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