The Boston Globe reports that the Northeast rail corridor will receive little, if any, of the $8 billion in stimulus funds earmarked for high-speed rail projects. The funds come with strict environmental review requirements that would take years to complete in the region. The Northeast corridor is home to the nation’s only high-speed rail service, Amtrak’s Acela, which connects Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. It’s also the busiest rail market in the U.S.
Of the 10 projects across the nation that will split the $8 billion, California, which arguably needs high-speed rail the most, is expected to receive the largest chunk. The Obama administration seems most concerned with building regional high-speed rail infrastructure across the country, in the hopes that it will serve as a foundation for improvements and technological advances down the road. This would effectively allow other metropolitan areas to catch up to the Northeast corridor.
The irony of the decision, of course, is that money spent in the Northeast corridor would theoretically pay for more “shovel ready” projects, since the infrastructure is already in place. The Globe reports Amtrak had planned on spending the stimulus funds on “better overhead electric supplies and stronger bridges, straightening sections of curvy track, and upgrading signaling systems,” all of which would have combined to shorten travel times by a half hour between Boston and New York and a full hour between Boston and Washington, D.C. These changes would likely have made the Acela a more viable alternative to driving or flying.
But it’s hard to argue with a broad approach to high-speed rail development. And taking a long view on what will be a long project, it makes sense to begin work in other congested areas of the country that would benefit from the clean and quick service high-speed rail promises.