Trains For America

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Alabama blocks southeast high speed rail

This dispute apparently involves the kingly sum of $120,000 (but, of course it IS the principle of the thing that counts!). The Alabama Highway Department refuses to pay the dues. The Birmingham Business Journal has most of the story for subscribers, but you can read what is public.

Alabama’s Southern neighbors are pointing accusatory fingers at the state, claiming its foot-dragging may derail an Atlanta-to-New Orleans high-speed rail line.

Members of the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission from Louisiana and Mississippi are eager to bid for a piece of the $9.3 billion earmarked in the federal stimulus package for inter-city, high-speed rail projects. But they say they are being held up because Alabama has not completed the necessary studies to request federal funds.

Birmingham is a logical hub for fast conventional trains to Atlanta, Nashville, Mobile, Memphis Jackson, and New Orleans, so this is really important. A story in explains that a conventional train operating from Birmingham to Atlanta at 110 mph. makes the trip in 90 minutes. So that would explain the stiff resistance from highway and trucking special interests.

he study would determine which tracks the train would use, ridership and costs, among other things. It is needed before the commission can tap into about $8 billion in federal stimulus money that has been set aside at the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop high-speed rail through 11 rail commissions nationwide.

“Because the state refuses to put up a couple of hundred thousand dollars, we could lose a couple of hundred million dollars,” Finley said. He faulted the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Shift in priorities:

ALDOT Director Joe McInnes said his department stopped paying the dues when he became director in 2003. “This department, by law, builds roads and bridges,” McInnes said. “We do not build railroads, airports or waterways.”

He said he also was concerned because neither Georgia nor Texas joined the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission.

The story notes that there is an involvement from the Mayor of Atlanta.

Let’s be clear, this is not some kind of wild-eyed 200 mph European style HSR that would require an entire new right-of-way and $10 billion. This is a project that could happen in a matter of years and bring instant economic benefits to everybody concerned (except airlines and truckers, and I don’t know what the Atlanta-Birmingham air travel market is like).

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

12 Responses

  1. anonymous says:


    None of the states south of NC are remotely serious about passenger rail. Even if they got their act together an Alabama played along, you can count on the GA legislatures neanderthals to torpedo the effort.

    Let them fail, and invest the money that might have gone their ways in states that care about passenger rail. To quote Ross Capon of NARP, “I don’t think they even know what a train is in Georgia.”

  2. Allan says:

    That is so wrong.

    There are trains in the south … especially Florida. Amtrak still hasn’t reopened the New Orleans – Florida leg.

    The New Orleans – Chicago route is often crowded … or has been when I’ve ridden it.

    What we don’t do is a lot of commuter rail. Most mass rail transit are boondoggles.

  3. no have money Thanks Bush for all

  4. patlynch says:

    The late Paul Weyrich would have disagreed about mass transit. Besides, and I don’t mean to quarrel, what exactly is a “boondoggle?”

    Folks in Dallas, not exactly a suburb of New York, seem to like their light rail a lot.

  5. Run it through Tenessee instead!

  6. special K says:

    Is light rail a better investment? That would get more people out of cars daily. Most states under this plan may have a better chance at funding their proposals (see CA). Light rail to feed these long distance lines makes sense for me.
    The down side once you slice up 8 billion no one has enough money to do anything. What a joke. When the states do slice up the money they will repurpose the funds for something else like ‘fill in your own misappropriation’.
    I think most people have not thought about what high speed rail really is. You can not go fast on these old rail beds. So how do you use the funds? The study seems to be a stop gap to go semi-high speed.

  7. Mike Skehan, Washington says:

    Washington, Oregon and British Columbia began to study and deploy High Speed Rail (HSR) passenger trains through the Cascade Corridor in the mid 90’s. Our Talgo tilt trains, capable of 125 mph, have been running between Eugene Oregon and Vancouver, BC since 1999.

    Using an ‘incremental approach’ to building the system, with limited state and dwindling Amtrak funding for trains, track and signal, and operations, has enabled some pretty impressive achievements — while still being limited to 79 mph by the Feds.

    Ridership continues to grow at double-digit rates each year. More than twice as many passengers now choose rail over planes for the trip between Seattle and Portland. Trains get twice the fuel economy over planes and cars, while producing only half the CO2 emissions.

    All Aboard Washington is excited the needed improvements are now achievable through the stimulus funding for HSR, and applaud our new administration. With modest capital improvements, new train sets could double ridership in years, not decades. Travel times could be slashed by up to 50% through higher speeds and reduced conflicts with current freight traffic, while achieving significant reductions to both fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Truly a win, win, win for America!

    For more information, check out our state adopted HSR plan at:

    And visit our web site at:

    ps, I miss living in Magnolia, AR

  8. Paul says:

    Great points Mike! Also worth a mention is the advantage of city center to city center transportation (avoiding the time and cost of transfers from the airports on each end of the trip).

    Is there anything currently in US law allowing for lighter train sets given certain conditions like no grade crossings? Has anyone heard of plans to change these rules? Almost a decade after the Acela launch I am still amazed by the fact that the Bombardier trains needed to weigh so much to meet the crazy US regulations probably written literally 100 years ago. I think that weight requirement was what caused so many break downs of Acela resulting from cracked trucks, etc..

  9. special K says:

    So, how do you break 79 mph while moving through the crossings?
    What is the advantage of using the current road bed? We would need seperate tracks to truly manage the conflict with freight. In the end would we not be buying new equipment for the sole provider of rail here in this country.
    So, how much does one tilt car cost? What about the cost of refabricating the rail bed per mile? How far would the money go?
    I am all for improvement on any front, but still won’t ride a train if I need to be on time.

  10. anonymous says:


    It’s right on target. Do FL, AL, MS, GA or LA put any money of their own into passenger rail improvements? If so, how much?

    Or do they just get the Long Distance service provided by Amtrak which is all federally funded and does not require local support to run?

    NC, VA, WA, OR, CA all shell out money from their pockets for passenger rail.

  11. patlynch says:

    You make a point, anonymous (#10). I do seem to recall, however, that LA made a contribution to track work back in the 90’s when a schedule shift was planned on the Sunset. Of course, I also recall that the plans were dropped and the money was wasted. Am I wrong?

    Alabama and Mississippi have been willing to talk and that is a lot for these two states. I am not meaning to belittle the efforts of rail advocates down there. It is especially tough to get our viewpoint across there.

    One more thought, the Crescent is still on the “national” system and the Sunset should be too.

  12. Lisa says:

    Why is Alabama being it’s own worst enemy? High speed rail to Atlanta and to New Orleans would be a great advantage for us! Why does alabama insist on being backwards?

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