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Raleigh's rail meeting is tonight

Raleigh's City Council is hosting a special public hearing tonight to discuss one of two options for the high-speed rail route that will connect Raleigh to Richmond, Va.

It could be a contentious meeting - some Five Points residents and officials with the Norfolk Southern station are adamantly opposed to the route Raleigh's Passenger Rail Task Force has recommended.

It almost certainly will be a well-attended hearing. So come early.

It starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers.

NC high-speed rail share bumps up to $545 million

Proposed high-speed rail corridorsIt turns out that North Carolina will get a bit more money for high-speed rail than we first reported this morning: A total of $545 million.

The Federal Railroad Administration says North Carolina will receive $520 million to fund nearly 30 projects between Raleigh and Charlotte that will increase top train speeds to 90 mph and double the daily round trips along the corridor.

And another $25 million for work on a planned new line between Raleigh and Richmond. At the other end of that track, Virginia will receive $75 million toward its work to improve rail lines between Richmond and Washington, D.C.

We don’t know yet what all this means for the future.

The Raleigh-Charlotte money covers more than one-third of North Carolina’s total request for that corridor. Between Raleigh and Richmond, the $25 million is only a few drops of the state’s total request for $3.7 billion to establish 110-mph rail service.

So how do we stack up, nationwide? ... [MORE]

NCDOT puts in its bids for the first $75.9M in fast-train stimulation

The state Department of Transportation is filing applications tonight for the first batch of federal high-speed rail grants it hopes to receive under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In preliminary filings in July, North Carolina said it eventually would apply for about $4 billion in rail grants to help build faster and more frequent rail service between Charlotte and Washington, D.C. Today the state asked for a small share of that total in six separate applications for a combined $75.9 million.

The grants include money to upgrade the Cary, Burlington and High Point rail stations, to rehabilitate locomotives and passenger cars, to build a rail passing siding in the Haw River area, to finish engineering work for a proposed line between Raleigh and Richmond, and to conduct environmental studies for proposed rail service extensions in western and southeastern North Carolina.

Pat Simmons, the state rail division director, said the six projects would create or preserve a combined 1,482 jobs in North Carolina, and 25 jobs at locomotive and railcar rehabilitation shops in New York and Delaware. Details of the grant applications will be posted tonight or tomorrow at http://bytrain.org/arra.html, he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration is accepting applications today only for projects that are ready to start. Other projects that can be ready to go by the end of 2009 will be included in a much larger batch of grant applications to be filed by Oct. 2, Simmons said.

Big bucks for faster trains

Proposed high-speed rail corridorsNorth Carolina is one of 40 states seeking chunks of President Obama's $8 billion in stimulus money to jump-start work on a national network of fast, frequent passenger train service.

NCDOT has filed notice (see today's story with reader comments) of plans to apply for a total of $4 billion for 90 different projects up and down the line between Charlotte and Richmond (we're teamed up with Virginia for what is called the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.)

You can find a package of "pre-application" documents sent by NCDOT to the Federal Railroad Administration here.

And you can read a John Locke Foundation critique of the Obama rail plan here

Conti pushes faster trains, north and south, for Triangle

Proposed high-speed rail corridorsAs North Carolina prepares to bid for several hundred million dollars in federal stimulus grants for fast passenger train improvements, Transportation Secretary Gene Conti is taking a leadership role in a national group of state officials that lobbies the government on rail issues.

Conti is the new chairman of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Standing Committee on Rail Transportation. The group makes recommendations on federal passenger and freight rail policies that affect the states.

“Hopefully that will position us to be first in line for some of this money,” Conti told Triangle business and government leaders at a Regional Transportation Alliance breakfast today in downtown Raleigh. “And I think we’re excited about the prospects.” ... [MORE]

North Carolina steps up for fast-train gravy

Proposed high-speed rail corridors
North Carolina was shortchanged when the United States mapped out the interstate highway system in the 1950s, but President Barack Obama today offered reason for the state to expect a more generous share of $8 billion in stimulus spending to build a national network of high-speed rail corridors.

"I am more reassured than ever that we're in the game," Pat Simmons, the state rail director, said this morning after a briefing with Obama. "We're part of developing and deploying this national network."

The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor from Washington, D.C., through Richmond and Raleigh to Charlotte, is one of 10 major high-speed corridors pegged by Obama for potential funding. And it is among six that federal officials say are likely to get on a shorter list of first-round grant winners, according to the criteria spelled out today in Obama's high-speed rail plan.

Here's how the president envisions it:

Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.

Some of the first grants from the Federal Railroad Administration will go for rail-improvement projects that are ready to go – environmental permits and engineering work have been completed. Simmons said North Carolina has a list of projects eligible for this first burst of railroad stimulus spending. ... [MORE]

Sites track transportation stimulus spending

www.recovery.govState and federal agencies have erected multiple websites to update their progress and plans for spending federal transportation stimulus money — but so far the actual details are thin. It's early yet.

Gov. Bev Perdue last week outlined North Carolina’s plans for spending more than half ($466 million) of $736 million in federal stimulus funds for highway and bridge projects (see blog post with comments), and she said the rest of that money would be spoken for within 45 days.

That leaves about $270 million to be parceled out for highway and related spending in the state. Local governments will have a say in deciding how North Carolina uses a lot of this remaining money.

Here is a breakdown of some of the spending categories provided this week at www.recovery.gov, a White House website that tracks the stimulus spending. The biggest, for funds that can be used in any area, includes $493 million for North Carolina.

Most of the smaller categories represent money still to be spent in North Carolina: ... [MORE]

High-speed skeptics rail against train plan

Lots of issues raised in online comments posted with both versions of Sunday's story (in The N&O and The Charlotte Observer) about North Carolina's pretty good prospects for getting some of the billions of dollars President Obama plans to spend to start building several high-speed rail corridors across the country.

Trains are Dinosaurs ... Having lived for a decade in Europe, believe me, they are a huge money pit - none make a dime in Europe, not even the high speed trains. The MAGLEV train that the Great Unifier wants to fund so Harry Reid can bring gamblers from LA to Las Vegas was developed in Germany over 20 years ago and was a total failure. - kmisegades

Republicans say Reid, the Democrats' Senate leader, wants stimulus loot to build a proposed magnetic levitation train between Las Vegas and Disneyland. This route is not among the 10 high-speed corridors designated since 1991 by the USDOT. We'll see whether the USDOT decides nevertheless to drop big bucks in Vegas.

Some people from both ends of the state are simply not excited about the prospect of traveling by train between Raleigh and Charlotte in as little as 2 hours and 15 minutes.

I made the drive one time in 1 hour and 45 minutes. This is a waste of money. - john galt

Now that's high speed. ... [MORE]

Obama budget: $8 billion is just a down payment on a speedy train network

President Obama's budget calls for $1 billion a year in new federal spending for high-speed rail, on top of the $8 billion set aside in the recent economic stimulus package.

That will get our attention. North Carolina and Virginia are partners in one contender for federal fast-train funds, the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

Obama proposes a "new federal commitment" to link U.S. cities with trains that can go at least 110 mph:

To provide Americans a 21st Century transportation system, the Administration proposes a five-year $5 billion high-speed rail State grant program. Building on the $8 billion down payment in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the President’s proposal marks a new Federal commitment to give the traveling public a practical and environmentally sustainable alternative to flying or driving. Directed by the States, this investment will lead to the creation of several high-speed rail corridors across the country linking regional population centers.

NC starts spending its $848 million transportation stimulus

So our share will be $735 million for highways and bridges, and $103 million for public transit, aviation, rail, ferry, bicycle and pedestrian projects.

And possibly more. Some of the money isn't earmarked for specific states, but we could have a shot at some of the $8 billion reserved for high-speed and other intercity passenger trains. ... [MORE]

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