For the first time in the nation’s history investments are being made into high-speed rail corridors.



By Ramona du Houx

April 25th, 2009

President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Biden and Secretary LaHood, announced a new U.S. push to transform travel in America, creating high-speed rail lines from city to city, reducing dependence on cars and planes and spurring economic development.

President Obama allocated $8 billion to establish high-speed rail corridors nationwide. Maine is one of 10 listed sites nationally eligible for the funding, which is part of the $787 billion Recovery Act economic stimulus package.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come,” said President Obama. “A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve. High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

The Presidents plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail like the kind found in Europe and Japan. Another would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster.

“The grant funds will be an enormous help for further expanding passenger and freight rail so that we are able to have a balanced transportation network. Right now all our eggs are in one basket. Rail has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lower harmful carbon emissions, foster new economic development and it gives people and businesses more transportation choices. It’s a huge opportunity for Maine,” said Governor John Baldacci. “Once people get used to traveling by rail they will see how efficient it is and will embrace it. The Downeaster has proven to be a success, with more people traveling on it every year.”

Train travel reduces commuter stress, while reducing carbon emissions by leaving the car in the garage. Many train commuters catch up on work on the train, sleep or relax enjoying the journey. Vice President Biden used trains to commute for thirty five years. He said, “Everyone knows railways are the best way to connect communities to each other.”

A hundred years ago Maine’s smallest towns were connected to their neighboring towns by rail. Many rural communities flourished with train access as businesses had an affordable way transport their goods.

The federal government will begin awarding money for projects by the end of this summer based on a competitive application process.

Governor Baldacci said Maine is working with the necessary partners to insure the state receives the recovery act funds.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority said that officials in Maine and Massachusetts are already working together, along with Pan Am Railways, which owns much of the rail right of way, to develop a comprehensive investment plan to upgrade the lines to make them faster.

The 110-mile Downeaster trip between Boston and Portland takes 2 hours. Since the service began in December 2001, it has served more than 2.3 million riders.

Rail improvements would allow the train to travel faster and bottlenecks on Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority could be eliminated with construction alternatives.

According to experts the line is straight enough to handle 110 mph and with an additional line built alongside any other congestion problems would be taken care of.

At 110 mph, an express train could travel between Boston and Portland in about an hour, cutting the current travel time in half.

Think about it – just an hour from Portland to Boston on a Downeaster express.

The president said the country can’t afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel.

“President Obama’s vision of robust, high-speed rail service offers Americans the kind of travel options that throughout our history have contributed to economic growth and enhanced quality of life,” said Secretary LaHood. “We simply can’t build the economy of the future on the transportation networks of the past.”