- Speakers from California, Georgia and Texas outlined their plans for more high-speed rail projects at a conference in Washington, D.C., last week as a growing number of states and cities are looking into ways to bring bullet trains to their communities.
- The 2021 infrastructure law provided up to $12 billion over five years for rail projects outside the Northeast Corridor, which can include new intercity passenger rail service such as high-speed trains.
- “The president wants to go faster on rail. He wants more rail to help with the climate and he wants to produce a lot of jobs and he sees high-speed rail as a part of that,” said White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu at the conference.
The nation’s two most prominent high-speed rail projects are the California effort to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco — the first segment of which is under construction — and the proposed Brightline West project between Las Vegas and Southern California. Both are looking to tap the nearly $4.6 billion in federal funds available for the 2022-2023 fiscal years.
But studies and planning are underway for several other projects that participants described at the conference, organized by the US High Speed Rail Association.
Clement Solomon, division director at the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the agency is looking at routes including Atlanta-Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta-Savannah, Georgia; and Atlanta-Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Chattanooga project received a final Tier 1 environmental impact statement and record of decision from the Federal Railroad Administration, while the Georgia DOT is conducting a Tier 1 EIS for the Charlotte route, which it hopes will someday connect with high-speed rail lines to Washington, D.C.
Last year, the Georgia DOT received $8 million in federal funds to begin environmental studies for the Savannah route. “This was a Congressionally-directed spending project that we have embarked on,” Solomon said at the conference.
Texans have been waiting for, and some have fought against, a proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line for nine years, which was to be privately financed. But little has been heard from the company since 2020 and no construction has begun. However, the North Central Texas Council of Governments has done “a lot of high-speed rail planning,” said the organization’s program manager for transportation planning - Metropolitan Transportation Plan, Brendon Wheeler, speaking at the conference. Wheeler said that the council had studied high-speed rail linking Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, in 2020, and has looked at regional planning for Dallas-Houston and Dallas-San Antonio lines.
Besides the two existing California projects, four cities, the county of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority are jointly backing a proposed 54-mile high-speed rail line to connect Palmdale and other high desert cities with the future Brightline West corridor and the California high-speed rail system.
The California State Transportation Agency recently granted $8 million to the High Desert Corridor Joint Powers Agency last year for preliminary engineering and other development activities. “Hopefully by sometime next year … we should be environmentally cleared with a Record of Decision to move forward and get into final design and construction,” said Arthur Sohikian, executive director of the HDC JPA.