In a letter Senator Frank Lautenberg sent earlier this week, Ray LaHood, President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, announced that the popular Northeast Corridor has been designated as the 11th and final High-Speed Rail corridor. As Transportation Nation noted, this designation means that Amtrak can now apply directly for high-speed rail funds, and the states do not have to go through the process of applying for funding for individual segments. As Senator Robert Menendez said on Twitter, the NEC is now eligible to apply for the $2.4 billion in federal funding Florida is in the process of sacrificing.
It always made sense to designate the Northeast Corridor as one eligible for high-speed rail, and it’s kind of surprising it’s taken this long. Amtrak’s Acela service is the most popular and profitable in the nation, and improving that service would reduce auto traffic between Washington, D.C, and Boston as well as air traffic. That the feds are coming together around such a plan is a positive sign indeed.
Of course, plenty of challenges remain though. Amtrak would have to fast-track the Gateway Tunnel and could do so with federal funds. But acquisition costs for land around the corridor will be high. In fact, when Amtrak unveiled its high-speed rail plans for the Northeast Corridor in the fall, the pricetag was a stunning $4.7 billion a year for 25 years. This designation is a great first step, but it’s only that. High-speed rail through New York City remains just a good idea on paper.