America and High-Speed Rail: The Progress So Far

A summary of the progress that has been made in each of the 10 high-speed rail corridors designated by President Obama for stimulus funding. While progress in most cases has been slow, the future of high-speed rail is not as bleak as once thought.

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In 2009, President Obama designated $8 billion of the over $800 billion ARRA stimulus package to go toward development of 10 high-speed rail corridors across the country. While real results are still at least a decade away, the past two years have seen some major progress in high-speed rail development — even outside of recent gains in California and Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, which was not among the 10 corridors marked for stimulus funding.

Below, we listed the latest statuses of the 10 designated corridors, plus the Northeast.


Major Cities: San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, and Las Vegas

Progress: On July 6, California lawmakers approved funding for the first phase of the high-speed rail network. Friday’s bill secures the $8 billion needed to begin work on the 130-mile section of track in the Central Valley, which will run from Medera to Bakersfield. Construction on this initial phase of the high-speed rail system is still expected to begin late 2012. No timetable, however, has been set for construction of the additional portions of the state’s network.

Pacific Northwest

Major Cities: Vancouver, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Eugene, Ore.

Progress: Renovations to Seattle’s King Street Station are ongoing. Officials have said that the $50 million project will be completed by the summer of 2013. Beyond the King Street Station restoration, the remaining $791 million Washington state received in 2010 will be allocated for improving existing rail infrastructure along the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor and expanding the current schedule to meeting growing demands. Additionally, the Washington State Department of Transportation has begun preliminary planning for future expansion of service and the development of a high-speed rail network for the Pacific Northwest.

Chicago Hub Network

Major Cities: Chicago, Twin Cities (Minneapolis–St. Paul), St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville and Indianapolis

Progress: In May, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association reported that Illinois, Indiana and Michigan are to complete a preliminary high-speed rail study to determine ways to relieve congestion along corridors within the network, which would allow trains in the Chicago Hub Network to travel at faster speeds. Earlier this year, Amtrak began offering 110-mph service for a 97-mile portion of its Detroit-Chicago corridor. These improvements will decrease travel times by 10 minutes. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association also reported that Michigan purchased 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern, which would allow faster service along the corridor from Detroit to Chicago. No announcement of timetables for the projects has been made.

South Central

Major Cities: San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Tulsa

Progress: With very little apparent support for the development of high-speed rail system coming from the Texas legislature, rail advocates appear to be looking to the private sector to make high-speed rail a reality in Texas. Reports indicate that representatives from the Texas Central Railway are in the process of raising $10 billion from private investors to develop a high-speed rail system from Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth. While Houston has not been included in the preliminary maps of the South Central Corridor, the fact that the private sector has been brought into the discussion creates some interesting possibilities and perhaps could be a strategy for advocates in the near future, especially if Congress remains in Republican control after the 2012 election.

Gulf Coast

Major Cities: Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, and Atlanta

Progress: Despite the fact that ridership and demands for service expansion continue to increase, very little progress has been made in the development of a high-speed rail system in the Gulf Coast Corridor.


Major Cities: Orlando, Tampa, Miami

Progress: None. This project seems like it is pretty much dead. It is especially frustrating for high-speed rail advocates, since a newly released report finds that a high-speed rail network would have potentially earned $31 billion within a decade. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s main justification for turning down the stimulus money that would have gone toward the creation of a high-speed rail network it wouldn’t have been profitable enough to justify the amount of money spent on the project.


Major Cities: Washington, D.C., Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Columbia, Savannah, Birmingham and Jacksonville

Progress: The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) recently began work on a Tier II Environmental Impact Statement for a 127-mile stretch of track from Richmond, Va. to Raleigh N.C. However, no timetable for ground breaking has been set. Money remains the largest obstacle: Officials have estimated that a completed Southeast high-speed rail corridor could cost anywhere from $8 billion to $43 billion.

Northeast Corridor

Major Cities: Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston

Progress: The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported an Amtrak announcement that development of an enhanced high-speed rail corridor in the Northeast would cost $151 billion. Amtrak’s report also set completion goals for the projects. By 2020, it says it hopes to reduce travel times from Philadelphia to New York to 62 minutes (and to 37 minutes by 2030). Additionally, Amtrak says it will acquire 40 more Acela trains by 2015, which will increase its high-speed service by 40 percent.


Major Cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Penn.

Progress: In 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) published a capital improvement plan for the Keystone Rail Corridor. The project remains in early stages. PennDOT’s recent report set March 2017 as the targeted completion date for the project. The current cost projection for the project, which would allow trains traveling on the corridor to reach speeds of 125 mph, is around $70 million. No timetable has been set for groundbreaking on the entire project.


Major Cities: Buffalo, Albany and New York

Progress: The Tier I Environmental Impact Statement for the 462-mile route is due out at some point this year. However, no timetable for any additional stages of the project have been released.

Northern New England

Major Cities: Boston, New Haven, Montreal and Portland, Maine

Progress: Most of the 2009 stimulus money has so far gone toward modest upgrade projects like track and signal improvements and station renovations throughout the corridor. No further plans for the corridor have been announced.

Images from the Federal Railroad Administration.

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Tags: infrastructurewashington dctransportation spendingtrainsbarack obamahigh-speed railamtrak

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