High-speed rail money: zero for Vermont

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $2 billion in high-speed rail awards providing an unprecedented investment to speed up trains in the Northeast Corridor, expand service in the Midwest and provide new, state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars as part of the Administration's plan to transform travel in America.

According to Christopher Parker, executive director of Vermont Rail Action, "Vermont's application for funds on the Western Corridor was not funded. This is bad news."

Vermont's loss was a gain for other nearby states. The Department's Federal Railroad Administration selected 15 states and Amtrak to receive $2.02 billion for 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and annual appropriations have, to date, provided $10.1 billion for rail access to new communities and improving the reliability, speed and frequency of existing lines. Of that, approximately $5.8 billion dollars has already been obligated for rail projects.

Regarding Vermont' failure to be selected for rail work, Vermont Rail Action Network's Parker said, "Vermont had applied for $80 million dollars of high-speed rail funds from $2.4 billion award that had been rejected by Florida. The total available was reduced from $2.4 billion to $2 billion ... The Department of Transportation appears to have followed the 'spread it around' theory of dispersing the money, making awards to 15 states." Parker speculated on why Vermont did not get the funds?

"Our application was solid," he said. "But the money was awarded to projects in areas with greater population on existing routes. The larger problem is that we are not spending enough on infrastructure. This is a national concern. But like some other issues, this may be something that Vermont can take the lead on, finding our own solutions with local resources."

Parker said the Shumlin administration said several of the other awards will benefit Vermonters, notably improvements between Albany and New York, and Springfield, Mass. and New Haven, Conn.

"This is true," he added. "Nevertheless, it's understandable that the western side of the state feels left out. Lacking an interstate, the transportation infrastructure on the Western Corridor is worse than it was in the 1930s."

Restoring the rail line will position the western part of Vermont for economic success in a future with diminishing energy choices, according to Parker.

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