America 2050 Update: November 2, 2011

In this Update:

  • California HSR Business Plan; 'Knowledge Corridor' Rail Report
  • US HSR Conference Nov. 6-8
  • Senate Preserves Rail Funding
  • Carnegie Report Backs Oil, Gas Taxes

California Unveils High-Speed Rail Business Plan Includes realistic cost estimates and timeline

On November 1, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released a business plan for its statewide high-speed rail plan with revised cost and ridership estimates and a longer and more detailed time frame for construction. Certain to attract the most attention is the price tag for the project, which has grown from $43 billion to $65.4 billion in 2010 dollars, or $98 billion accounting for inflation over the life of the project.
The business plan also includes details on what it would cost California to accommodate the same amount of growth in travel without high-speed rail: $171 billion to pay for 2,300 lane miles of new highway capacity, 115 airport gates, and 4 runways. With high-speed rail, the business plan estimates the high-speed rail plan will generate 100,000 jobs in the first 5 years, while reducing carbon emissions by 3 million tons annually.

As described in the business plan, the first phase of the project (the "initial construction segment"), currently funded at $5.2 billion, will connect Fresno to Bakersfield, the spine of the statewide system, with construction completed by 2017. Once these tracks are built, the Authority will choose an initial operating segment in the Central Valley, which will either be between Bakersfield, Merced, and San Jose or Merced and the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. Subsequent construction will be implemented in phases, including the "Bay to Basin" - constructing high-speed rail tracks from Fresno and Bakersfield to San Jose and the San Fernando Valley, respectively; and the final track approaches to San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim. The full high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim is expected to be operational by 2033. Each segment is intended to provide independent utility, and to generate an operating profit.

The release of the business plan kicks off a formal public comment period, from November 1 to December 31, which can be submitted via the Authority's online comment form.

America 2050 applauds the California High-Speed Rail Authority for developing a business plan that lays out a realistic framework for bringing high-speed rail to California.

How Rail Investment Could Deliver Growth to the 'Knowledge Corridor'

A new report by Regional Plan Association and America 2050 recommends strategies for leveraging the $400 million public investment in the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Corridor to boost economic growth. The report, "Dependable Rail in 2016: What Will It Mean for the Knowledge Corridor Region?", includes lessons from successful passenger rail corridors in Maine and Northern California, and suggests steps that will bring the most benefit to cities and businesses, such as providing connecting transportation services, offering free-transfer vouchers and planning for increased commercial and residential activity around train stations.

On October 25, about 100 business leaders and local officials met in Rocky Hill, Conn., to explore the next steps for achieving the maximum economic boost from the project. Read coverage of event in the Hartford Courant . The  rail project adds a second track along the majority of the corridor, upgrades and improves stations, platforms, bridges, grade crossings, and signal systems, and upon completion adds capacity for up to 25 daily round trip trains, up from 6 today.

Northeast HSR Conference Nov. 6-8

The U.S. High-Speed Rail Association will hold its Northeast Corridor conference in New York City on Nov 6-8 at the New Yorker Hotel. Registration is still open. Speakers this year include Secretary Ray LaHood; Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, director general of the International Union of Railways; John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and many more. America 2050 Director Petra Todorovich will participate in a panel on developing high-speed rail around the nation.

The conference comes shortly before the start of a planning study and Environmental Impact Statement led by the Federal Railroad Administration for Northeast Corridor high-speed rail. The environmental study will evaluate options such as those proposed by Amtrak and the University of Pennsylvania.

Senate Acts To Preserve Rail Funding

The U.S. Senate voted on November 1 to approve a "minibus" bill that combined transportation, housing, and other spending bills. The minibus bill included $1.48 billion for Amtrak and $100 million for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program in fiscal year 2012.

While the $1.48 billion for Amtrak falls short of its $2.2 billion budget request, the Senate bill avoids the drastic cuts proposed by the House that would cut operating funding by 60 percent and shut down the state-supported lines that serve approximately 9 million passengers in 15 states - almost one-third of Amtrak's passengers - with severe consequences for the communities served by these corridors. Amtrak just had its most successful year ever, serving a record 30.2 million passengers in the 2011 fiscal year. Read more.

Carnegie Report Backs Oil, Gasoline Taxes

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace joined Regional Plan Association in New York on November 1 to present their new report, Road to Recovery: Transforming America's Transportation. Panelists including former Senator Bill Bradley, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson, and Amtrak director Anthony Coscia discussed the report's key findings: Transportation is contributing to the national deficit; system upkeep is insufficient; and investments are not geared toward economic growth. The report recommends implementing an "upstream" oil tax on producers, refiners, and distributors that would increase with the price of oil, balanced by a "downstream" tax on gasoline that would rise when world oil prices fall, to stabilize gasoline prices at about $3.50 to $4.00 a gallon. Read more.