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U.S. announces $2.4 billion for high-speed rail in 23 states

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America's next-generation high-speed rail infrastructure takes another step with the announcement of $2.4 billion in funds for 54 projects in 23 states.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday announced $2.4 billion in funding for 54 high-speed rail projects in 23 states.

The goal: to do for intercity passenger rail what the Interstate Highway System did in 1956.

The Federal Railroad Administration said it received 132 applications from 32 states asking for $8.8 billion, three times as much as is available.

More than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers have agreed to establish or expand bases of operations in the U.S. if hired for the job.

"Demand for high-speed rail dollars is intense and it demonstrates just how important this historic initiative is," U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

The money will be used in all parts of the rail infrastructure, from the construction of track and stations to the purchase of new passenger equipment to planning studies to develop new high-speed rail service.

"In the 20th century, our vision led to the interstate highway system," FRA administrator Joe Szabo said in a statement. "In the 21st century, our vision will give us a world-class network of high-speed passenger rail corridors."

The funds come after an initial "down payment" of $8 billion from the Recovery Act, and come from several places:

  • $95 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's FY 2009 appropriations and remaining money from a related FY 2008 appropriations program;
  • The Department's FY 2010 appropriations, which include at least $2.125 billion for high-speed rail service development programs, $245 million for individual projects and $50 million for planning and multi-state proposal activities.

So where's the money going? Here are some highlights:

  • California received more than $901 million, including $715 million for the construction of new high-speed rail lines in the Central Valley. [Read the plan (.pdf) here.]
  • Florida received $800 million for the Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail corridor. The vision: high-speed rail linking Tampa, Orlando and Miami. [Read the plan (.pdf) here.]
  • Iowa received $230 million to create a new intercity passenger rail service between Iowa City and Chicago through the Quad Cities.  It's at the heart of the proposed "Chicago Hub" rail system in the Midwest. [Read the plan (.pdf) here.]
  • Michigan received $161 million for a high-speed rail corridor connecting Detroit and Chicago, the two largest cities in the Midwest. [Read the plan (.pdf) here.]

You can find the full rundown here, which also includes:

The expectation is that within 25 years, rail "will give 80 percent of Americans the choice of traveling from downtown to downtown by high speed passenger train," according to the DOT's Fast Lane blog.

That means:

  • A ride from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in two hours and forty minutes.
  • A ride from Chicago to St. Louis in two hours.
  • A ride from Tampa to Orlando in 55 minutes.

Naturally, all the HSR work is a boon for jobs, economic growth, mobility, alleviated highway congestion, greener transport and fewer carbon emissions.

According to the department:

And all of these intercity routes will be cleaner and greener than our current options, easing our reliance on imported oil and mitigating carbon emissions on our environment.

Every vision this nation ever realized began with a few courageous steps. If we put off high-speed rail by saying it will take too long to build, then it will never happen. President Eisenhower took a step forward at the birth of the US Interstate Highway network in the 1950s, and today that system is the life-blood of American commerce and mobility.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure