Maglev funding nonexistent
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When President Barack Obama announces $8 billion in grants for high-speed passenger rail projects today, Pennsylvania will get only a small slice of the pie.
The administration will announce $26.4 million for the state, nearly all of it going toward upgrades to the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia rail corridor, according to information released by U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey.
Western Pennsylvania will get $750,000 toward a $1.5 million study of possible service improvements between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
A proposal to build a magnetic levitation train from Pittsburgh International Airport through Downtown to Greensburg, for which the state had sought $2.3 billion, will get no money.
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will announce the grants today at a town hall meeting in Tampa, Fla., an indication that a proposed high-speed line from Tampa to Orlando, and possibly Miami, will be a big winner in the funding competition.
The money, which was included in the economic stimulus program approved by Congress last year, attracted applications totaling $57 billion from 37 states and the District of Columbia.
The White House did not release details of the funding allocations Wednesday but said the money would go to 13 rail corridors and benefit 31 states.
Henry Posner, an international railroad executive based in Pittsburgh, had predicted that the maglev proposal, of which he has been openly critical, would be left out.
"It'll be further confirmation of what everybody outside of the Pittsburgh area has known for years -- that it's a solution looking for a problem," he said.
He said regional officials, rather than focusing on transportation benefits, have allowed themselves to be sidetracked by the prospects of job creation from an emerging technology. There is no need, he said, for bullet trains from Downtown to the airport, a distance that can be driven in about 20 minutes.
"We got on the wrong horse," he said.
The administration will give Pennsylvania $18 million to remove the last three public grade crossings on the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia line; and grants of $6.3 million and $1.35 million for preliminary engineering on other improvements that will increase reliability and reduce trip times on that segment.
There already is a stark difference in rail service east and west of Harrisburg.
The state in recent years took part in a $145 million upgrade of the Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia corridor that reduced travel times to 90 minutes and increased ridership and frequency of service to 14 daily trips.
By contrast, Amtrak operates one train from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh that takes five hours or more.
At a hearing in June, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation official estimated that it would take hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the corridor to make train trips competitive with automobile travel.
Mr. Obama announced the ambitious plan to develop a high-speed U.S. rail network in April, comparing it to President Dwight D. Eisenhower's push to develop the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
In addition to the $8 billion in stimulus funds, another $5 billion has been allocated in the federal budget for passenger rail development. A long-term transportation bill introduced in Congress last year would provide another $50 billion.
William Millar, the former Port Authority executive who heads the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, said today's announcement "is the beginning of our nation's journey in implementing high-speed rail and higher-speed rail and creating a world-class, multimodal transportation system. This time will be remembered as the beginning of a new era in transportation."
First Published January 28, 2010 12:00 am