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Missouri Beats Kansas in Dollars for High Speed Rail Improvements
Joined by famed rail enthusiast Vice President Biden, the President releases his vision for high speed rail as funded by the Recovery Act and the coming budget. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is in the background.
Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

For Missouri, the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail awards announced Thursday afternoon were “the best possible scenario.” For Kansas, it was being kissed by your sister.

Brian Weiler, multi-modal director for the Missouri Department of Transportation, isn’t buying any champagne. “But I’m going to crack a beer when I get home,” he said.

MoDOT will receive $31 million – slightly more than it requested – in economic stimulus funds earmarked for high-speed passenger rail to make improvements to railroad tracks between Kansas City and St. Louis. The tracks, owned by Union Pacific, are used by Amtrak and Missouri for passenger trains that cross the state.

The Kansas Department of Transportation will receive $250,000 to work on a plan to expand passenger rail service in the state. KDOT had requested another $17.6 million for track improvements for the proposed rail service – and didn’t get it.

The administration is awarding $8 billion to states across the country to develop a program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service.

“Through the Recovery Act, we are making the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System was created, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, and waterways for the future,” said President Barack Obama. “That investment is how we can break ground across the country, putting people to work building high-speed rail lines, because there’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.”

The awards will serve as a down-payment on laying the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high-speed rail corridors across the country, he said. The major corridors are part of a total of 31 states receiving investments, including smaller projects and planning work that will help lay the groundwork for future high-speed intercity rail service, he said.

A sizeable chunk of the money will go to ambitious high-speed rail systems proposed for Florida and California. In Missouri, the money will be used for removing bottlenecks and changing grade crossings, said Weiler.

The goal is to increase passenger train speeds to 90 miles an hour, although that probably won’t be completely attainable, he said.

“This is a very busy line,” Weiler said. “In all likelihood, it’s going to be very difficult to go above 90 all the way. There are some parts where you’re not gong to get to 90.”

But the improvements will be a marked improvement in speeding up passenger trains and improving their efficiency, he said.

Weiler added he was pleased that the Federal Railroad Administration added extra money to plan for more improvements.

One of the more important would be to connect two passing tracks at Pleasant Hill and at Lees Summit just outside of Kansas City, which would take care of a major bottleneck, he said.

“And that they’ve included the money for the planning and engineering is a good indication that they may include funding for building it later,” Weiler said.

The award also include a little more than $1.1 billion for “corridor improvements” that would allow Amtrak to increase passenger train speeds up to 110 miles an hour between Chicago and St. Louis.

In Kansas, the $250,000 grant would be used to create a Service Development Plan, a detailed business and operations blueprint for a proposed extension of the Heartland Flyer between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City from Oklahoma City to Newton, Kan., where it would connect with the Southwest Chief, which runs from Chicago through Kansas City to Los Angeles. KDOT would have to come up with another $250,000 to match the grant.

“I’m pleased that Kansas has received this grant, and now we must find match money in our budget, which has been hard hit by cuts and decreased revenue this year,” said Transportation Secretary Deb Miller.

“After the Amtrak study and the Service Development Plan are completed, we will provide the reports to the Legislature, who ultimately will determine whether the proposed expansion of rail service can be funded.”

KDOT also applied for two grants, which weren’t funded. One request was for $7.6 million to make track improvements on BNSF Railway tracks – route of the Southwest Chief -- about 100 miles southwest of Kansas City. The second was a $10 million request to upgrade signals and crossings on BNSF Railway tracks from Newton to the Oklahoma state line for the extension of the Heartland Flyer.

Applicants submitted over $55 billion in grant requests for the $8 billion. In addition to the $8 billion awarded Thursday, the plan also includes $1 billion a year for five years in the federal budget as a down payment to jump-start the rail passenger program.

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