Trump Infrastructure Plans Leave Projects in the Lurch

Maryland's Purple Line hangs by a thread, plus more in our weekly New Starts.

A Hudson-Bergen Light Rail train in Jersey City, New Jersey (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Maryland’s Purple Line Hangs by a Thread
Several dozen urban transportation projects across the United States face an uncertain fate at best while President Donald Trump’s administration figures out how it will make good on its trillion-dollar promise to repair America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, The New York Times reports.

That trillion dollars is not contained in the budget the Trump White House has submitted to Congress. Instead, that budget proposal cuts Department of Transportation spending by 13 percent, eliminates funding for Amtrak and ends the Obama administration’s TIGER grant program, which funded a number of transit and highway projects in cities nationwide.

One of the projects left hanging by a thread is the Purple Line light-rail route in Washington’s Maryland suburbs. Maryland transportation officials were ready to sign a full funding grant agreement with the federal government when a judge temporarily voided the project’s environmental approvals in August of last year. Under the proposed Trump budget, any transportation infrastructure project that does not now have federal funding agreements in place will have to be paid for by the local governments “that use and benefit from these localized projects.” Fifty such projects, including the Purple Line, were on a list of high-priority items circulated among Trump transition staff prior to his inauguration and published by the McClatchy newspaper chain. Maryland officials were quoted in the Times as expressing disappointment in the last-minute withdrawal of a firm federal commitment to the line.

The Trump administration is promoting public-private partnerships as the way to finance and build many of these projects; Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to an infrastructure program but said that the projects should not “burden future generations with massive debt.”

According to a story in the Hudson Reporter, New Jersey transportation officials expressed similar dismay over the elimination of federal New Starts funding for projects going forward but said that the state would find ways to finance most of the projects on its transportation wish list, including an extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line north into Bergen County and south to State Route 440 in Jersey City. Nonetheless, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise called the cuts from Washington “extremely shortsighted.”

First Train Leaves Britain for China via the Silk Railroad
Even as Britain disengages itself from Europe a la Brexit, there’s news related to its extension of an ancient trade route, this time on steel rails.

Railway Gazette International took note April 10 of the departure from London of the first eastbound freight train to China from DP World’s London Gateway port facility. The train, carrying a mix of containers filled with products including soft drinks, vitamins, pharmaceuticals, baby products and whisky, is ultimately destined for Yiwu, a city of 1.2 million located 100 km (62 miles) south of Hangzhou in southeast China.

It will take about three weeks for the container train to complete the 12,000-km (7,456.5-mile) journey from London to Yiwu, crossing through France, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in between.

This train marks the establishment of a permanent rail cargo service between the United Kingdom and China. A demonstration train had left Yiwu on Jan. 1 and arrived at a port in London’s Barking section on Jan. 18. It extends an intercontinental freight service between China and Duisburg in the Ruhr region of Germany that has been operating since 2015.

The new service further develops a Chinese government program called “One Belt, One Road” that will create a network of similar trade routes across Eurasia.

“This new rail link with China is another boost for Global Britain, following the ancient Silk Road trade route to carry British products around the world,” Greg Hands, Minister of State in the Department for International Trade, told Railway Gazette. “It shows the huge global demand for quality U.K. goods and is a great step for DP World’s £1.5 billion [$1.87 billion U.S.] London Gateway port as it also welcomes its first regular container ships from Asia.”

Swiss Government Greenlights Zurich Light-Rail Project
The Swiss Federal Transport Office issued permits on April 10 to allow construction of the Limmattalbahn, a 13.4-km (8.3-mile) line connecting the states (cantons) of Zurich and Aargau, to proceed, the International Railway Journal reports.

The meter-gauge line will connect two Swiss Federal Railways stations, one at Zurich-Altstetten and the other at Killwangen-Spreitenbach in Aargau. It will have 27 stations in between the two end points, and 92 percent of the route will be on dedicated track.

Trains will operate at 15-minute intervals and will take 37 minutes to travel from end to end. The line’s 715 million Swiss franc tab ($709 million U.S.) is being split between the federal government and the states of Zürich and Aargau.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: transportation spendinglight railtrains

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