US Vice President Joe Biden announced on 9 February a six-year plan that will help the nation reach President Obama’s goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high speed rail within 25 years. The proposal will place high speed rail on an equal footing with other surface transportation programmes and revitalise America’s domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high speed and intercity passenger rail network. This long term commitment builds on the $10.5 billion down payment the Obama Administration already devoted to a national high speed rail system – including $8 billion of Recovery Act funds and $2.5 billion from the 2010 budget.
As the first step in this six-year plan, the President’s Budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion in expanding Americans’ access to high speed passenger rail service. For the first time, all high speed and intercity passenger rail programmes will be consolidated into two new accounts: a $4 billion account for network development, focused on building new infrastructure, stations, and equipment; and a $4 billion account for system maintenance and renewal.
In order to achieve a truly national system, the investments will focus on developing or improving three types of interconnected corridors:
- Core Express: These corridors will form the backbone of the national high speed rail system, with electrified trains travelling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 200-400 km/h or higher.
- Regional: Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 145-200 km/h will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high speed service.
- Emerging: Trains travelling at up to 145 km/h will provide travellers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high speed and intercity passenger rail network.
This system will allow the Department – in partnership with states, freight rail, and private companies – to identify corridors for the construction of world-class high speed rail, while raising speeds on existing rail lines and providing crucial planning and resources to communities who want to join the national high speed rail network. By clarifying the long term federal role in passenger rail, this six-year programme will provide states and cities with the certainty they need to make long term transportation plans for their communities.