Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Washington State applies for more than $1.3 billion in HSR grants

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Continuing its pursuit of a portion of the $8 billion available through the ARRA High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, the Washington State Department of Transportation applied for more than $1.3 billion in ARRA stimulus funds for the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor.

Washington State submitted its application in this second round for Track 2 projects, Service Development Programs, which is intended to develop high-speed passenger rail corridor projects that bring a benefit greater than the sum of individual projects. WSDOT has a total of 26 capital rail projects that qualify under Track 2 that also includes the projects that were included in the first round of applications submitted on August 24.

"We are optimistic about our chances of receiving grants from this round of ARRA applications," said Paula Hammond, Washington Transportation Secretary. "Washington has a 15-year track record of investment in the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. Amtrak Cascades, our popular intercity passenger rail service, has a growing ridership as well as the support from our partnerships with Oregon and British Columbia."

If all 26 projects receive ARRA funding, they could create up to 13,900 new jobs. On-time performance for Amtrak Cascades would improve by 23 percent overall and enable an increase in seating capacity of 776,720 per year.

Nearly $1.0 billion in capital and operating funds has been invested in high-speed intercity passenger rail in the Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor since 1994. The financial support comes from a combination of federal, state, and local support. Washington State alone has invested significantly with a total of $331 million.

WSDOT's Track 2 request was developed from the creation of three "service blocks" based on a logical progression of adding intercity passenger rail services. Each one of these groups of projects adds at least one Amtrak Cascades round trip between Portland and Seattle, improves schedule reliability, and reduces travel times between cities.

The federal $787-billion Recovery Act included $8 billion for the High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The new program represents the federal government's first significant investment in the nation's passenger rail transportation network.

WSDOT has been working with BNSF and others to develop intercity passenger rail service in the Pacific Northwest for more than 15 years. This successful partnership has resulted in the delivery of nearly 40 construction projects that have added rail line capacity, improved public safety, relieved rail line congestion and allowed for faster, more frequent Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail service between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, B.C.

More than six million passengers have ridden the state-supported Amtrak Cascades service since 1999. Ridership for 2008 reached nearly 775,000 and was the highest ever since the beginning of the service.

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