He keeps safety on track (News and Observer) (profile of Pat Simmons)

He keeps safety on track (News and Observer)

RALEIGH — Pat Simmons is a bit of a safety nut.

When he rides his red 1986 BMW Airhead motorcycle downtown to the state Highway Building to work or to the Cary depot to catch a train, he’s all about accident prevention.

He wears a padded-fishbowl safety helmet that must be the fattest one you can buy. He cloaks his suit and tie with a dazzling yellow jacket so car drivers won’t stare through him on the highway.

And when he passes a driver engrossed in telephone chatter, he announces his presence with a toot of his 134-decibel air horn.

“So I watch for that,” Simmons says, grinning as he holds a fist to his ear to imitate a glassy-eyed driver on the phone. “And I’ll just touch the horn, to let people know I’m here.”

Safety is part of Simmons’ success at the state Department of Transportation, where he became the Rail Division’s first director in 1994.

The toll of deadly car-train crashes has been cut in half since then by a North Carolina innovation called the Sealed Corridor Program, a systematic approach to upgrading safety features at dangerous rail crossings – or closing them altogether.

The Federal Railroad Administration adopted the program as the safety standard for a planned national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network. And Simmons helped North Carolina join that initiative this year with a whopping $545 million share of President Barack Obama’s first investment in fast trains.

North Carolina won more rail money than all but six other states nationwide, and even more than the seven states in the train-intensive Northeast combined.

Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, says North Carolina beat out more urban states because it has built one of the two best state rail programs in the country. (California’s is the other.)

She credits Simmons and calls him “very focused and frugal.”

“A huge part of our decision on choosing which programs went forward was not only how good the projects were but how good the management teams behind those projects were,” Rae said. “One of the tipping points was the proven record of strong management and the team that Pat has assembled in North Carolina.”

Simmons, 58, is a Hickory native who grew up mostly in Wilmington. His father worked for the telephone company then known as Southern Bell. During his early childhood years in rural Tobaccoville, Pat picked up an interest in reading from a bookmobile that stopped at a country store.

Varied interests

After earning double degrees in psychology and marine biology at UNC-Wilmington, he spent a few years in Louisiana. He did marine archaeology work for an offshore drilling firm and learned about politics by writing grant applications for the parish government in Baton Rouge.

He returned to North Carolina and served as the first director for a rural transit agency in Boone before finding bus and train work at DOT.

Asked to explain his approach to railroading, Simmons recalls the first grant proposal he ever wrote. It was not about transportation, but about getting juvenile offenders back on track.

Between exams during his junior year at UNC-W, he applied for and won a research grant to find out whether family counseling for troubled teens and their parents could make a difference in changing their outlook and mending their ways.

The answer was yes.

“You observe human behavior, then you introduce changes and see how they change the behavior,” Simmons said. “It was the same scientific technique we used to establish the sealed corridor.”

That effort started with video cameras at a Charlotte rail crossing. Cars, trucks and even school buses ignored warning signals and drove around the crossing gates, to beat approaching trains.

DOT workers experimented with different devices including longer gates, quadruple gates and median barriers. They documented how effective each approach was in keeping drivers from straying into trouble on the tracks.

Sometimes when Simmons uses the scientific approach to test a pet theory about how to improve North Carolina’s railroads, the answer is no.

He thought there would be a demand for passenger trains from Charlotte to Wilmington, but marketing studies found none. He thought about building a depot between High Point and Greensboro, but passengers wanted to keep the stations downtown.

Expanding service

In 1994 North Carolina forged a pact with Virginia to develop fast train service from Charlotte to Washington, D.C., as part of a Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor that eventually could reach Georgia and Florida.

“Pat was the one that made that a reality,” said Rae. “He framed it up and got the details behind the idea together. He engaged Virginia and continues to try to help South Carolina.”

Virginia cared mainly about faster trains north of Petersburg and Richmond. North Carolina shouldered the big task of rebuilding a rail line, partly abandoned since 1980, that follows U.S. 1 from Raleigh to Petersburg.

Federal agencies last week signed off on DOT’s draft environmental statement for a Raleigh-to-Petersburg route. The action moves Simmons a big step forward in his effort to win more federal money – more than $3 billion for this 168-mi. segment alone – to build this key rail link between Southern states and the Northeast.

Travel time from Raleigh to Washington would drop by 2 hours, to just over 4 hours.

The planned top speed between Charlotte and Raleigh, for now, is 90 mph. That’s not “high-speed rail,” but Simmons says it will be a good investment for the state. The travel time from Raleigh to Charlotte will shrink by an hour to just over two hours – even with seven stops along the way.

“In the mid-90s we looked at speed, and speed costs money,” Simmons explained recently to a class of engineering students at N.C. State University. “The faster you go, the more it costs. We reckoned there is a sweet spot where you can offer frequent, reliable, time-competitive service, and you will have good patronage.”

David King was the deputy transportation secretary who put Simmons in charge of North Carolina’s rail ambitions in 1994. He watched Simmons deal patiently with critics who thought DOT should stick with highways.

“I think Pat’s greatest asset is perseverance,” said King, now general manager of Triangle Transit. “Long-term projects you’re investing in today for benefits tomorrow are sometimes hard to defend, but Pat’s been able to do that.”

Simmons pursues his rail mission with an air of quiet jollity. He says skeptics make him better at his job.

“People ask a lot of questions, because it’s different from what we’ve done for the last 30 or 40 years,” he told the NCSU students. “And that’s cool.

“One thing I find beneficial is for people to ask the critical questions. Because either I’ve got a good answer, or it ain’t worth doing.”

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/05/16/484699/he-keeps-safety-on-track.html#ixzz0oCPBmaxH

Study: Rush-hour rail could ease commuter crunch (News and Observer)

Study: Rush-hour rail could ease commuter crunch (News and Observer)

RALEIGH A new report predicts a healthy demand by Triangle workers and students for commuter trains that could run every 40 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hour.

The study, released today, says that by 2022 the state-owned N.C. Railroad could serve at least 11,000 riders a day (3 million a year) in commuter trains on its 140-mi. line between Greensboro and Goldsboro.

The forecast projects that the heaviest demand for rush-hour rail – and the most likely place to start – is for trains that would make 11 stops from Durham and Research Triangle Park through Raleigh to Clayton and Wilson’s Mills. The second-highest demand centers on five stops between Greensboro and Burlington.

No decisions have been made about whether to launch commuter rail service on all or any of the tracks between Greensboro and Goldsboro.

Commuter trains use regular diesel locomotives to carry suburban residents to jobs and universities in urban areas. The study predicts that rush-hour service on the NCRR line would rank 16th in ridership among the nation’s 23 commuter rail systems.

John L. Atkins III of Durham, N.C. Railroad’s board chairman, said the study shows that rush-hour trains could help the Triangle handle its continuing growth in workers and residents.

“We see great potential in commuter rail service,” Atkins said in a prepared statement. “The study projections tell us that communities have the opportunity to increase mobility options for citizens all along the corridor, which contains about 18 colleges and universities. And if people opt for commuter rail, that frees capacity for businesses to use our roads and reduces congestion, which benefits air quality.”

N.C. Railroad carries 60 freight trains and eight passenger trains on its 317-mi. track between Morehead City and Charlotte. A 2008 NCRR study said it would cost between $2.3 million and $9.3 million a mile to add commuter train service between Greensboro and Goldsboro.

The new study supports current proposals by Triangle leaders to consider commuter trains as a quick-start phase for the region’s long-range plan to boost transit service with more buses and eventually electric-powered light rail trains.

Unlike light-rail – and unlike a similar regional rail plan that was scuttled a few years ago after it lost federal support – commuter trains would not make frequent stops or provide day-and-night service. But the rush-hour trains could be launched at much less expense and several years sooner, because they would use existing tracks.

The new study also comes as Raleigh and regional officials are considering a proposal to replace the city’s cramped Amtrak station and merge it with a regional transit hub that also would serve buses, commuter trains and the planned increase in intercity Amtrak trains.

The study found relatively weak demand for commuter trains between Burlington and Durham, including a proposed spur-line from Hillsborough to Chapel Hill – partly because many students, university workers and other commuters in that area have free transit or other good transit options already.

Leaders in Wake, Durham and Orange counties are working out details of a transit plan to be submitted to county commissioners in the coming year. A proposed referendum, which could be held in the fall of 2011, would ask voters in the three counties to consider boosting the local sales tax by one-half cent per dollar – or 5 cents on every $10 purchase – to help pay for improved transit service.

N.C. Railroad officials said successful commuter trains would depend on a good local transit service to take commuters from the proposed rail stops to their jobs and schools.
Published Tue, May 11, 2010 12:00 AM
Modified Tue, May 11, 2010 12:03 PM
bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527

With several urban cores and a major research park at the center, how would fixed-guideway transit work? (The TransportPolitic)

With several urban cores and a major research park at the center, how would fixed-guideway transit work? (The TransportPolitic)

North Carolina’s Triangle is known as one of the most economically vibrant areas of the country. Its cities are growing rapidly and their inhabitants, attracted by several prominent universities, are some of the smartest in the country. Decades of population expansion, however, haven’t been followed by serious efforts to concentrate growth around better transit. Indeed, the region is sprawling more than almost any other, with the vast majority of new housing growth in new low-density subdivisions on the margins of the area’s four biggest cities: Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill. Though downtowns have experienced significant regeneration over the past several years, the lack of efficient transit alternatives has handicapped hopes for further densification.

With more than one million inhabitants and increasing congestion on the area’s most-trafficked arteries, leaders have renewed their hopes of building a rail system that would connect neighborhoods designated for multi-story development. Recent decisions by the state that allow for local sales taxes and a willingness among municipal authorities to push for citizen referendums over the next few years may make such a network possible.

Yet, with several urban cores and the job-filled Research Triangle Park at the center of the region, politicians from a variety of interest groups will have a fight on their hands as they determine how to distribute a limited set of tax revenues. There is no overarching regional authority that runs the panoply of local bus systems today, nor a regional decision-making body. There are serious disagreements about where job growth should be centered. These obstacles will ensure that the implementation of a high-quality rapid transit system in the Triangle doesn’t come easily.

North Carolina leaders came close to moving forward with the construction of a diesel multiple unit line between downtown Durham and North Raleigh in 2004; at that time, the Triangle Transit Authority (now Triangle Transit) was leading the process, had developed an $860 million plan, and had acquired the majority of the right-of-way along the corridor. But in 2005, the Federal Transit Administration significantly altered its rule process for receiving New Starts grants, basically eliminating the plan from consideration and shutting it down. The lack of a strong local tax source was part of the problem, though so were lower-than-necessary ridership estimates.

Leaders came together two years later to form a committee to resuscitate the plan and in 2008 produced a 25-year, $8.2 billion investment project that would include a light rail line between Durham and Chapel Hill, a diesel multiple unit link between Durham and North Raleigh, express buses on the most congested roadways, and streetcar or bus circulators in the urban cores. At the same time, the North Carolina Railroad, which controls most of the right-of-way between Durham and Raleigh, began planning a one billion dollar commuter rail plan of its own that would extend from Greensboro to Goldsboro, duplicating most of the Triangle route with service at rush hours.

Meanwhile, in 2009, the state legislature approved a law that allows Durham, Orange, and Wake Counties — the core of the Triangle region — to increase sales taxes by 0.5% for transportation purposes, after a citizen referendum. This month’s announcement that the FTA would alter its New Start guidelines to incorporate livability and reduce their focus on cost-effectiveness, making the Triangle’s project again appropriate for federal funding, have added to the momentum.

With a renewed sense that a rail project is possible in the Triangle and an unprecedented opportunity to raise funds, local politicians are talking seriously about how to move forward. Despite the fact that the mayors of Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh are all pro-transit, they have divergent views about which corridors should be first put in service. The county commissioners of the three counties have their own priorities, as do the leaders of the region’s other cities.

If Triangle counties agree to hold a referendum on a sales tax for public transportation in November 2011, as now seems likely, they would be able to get the first lines in operation in about a decade — as long as the public agrees to the deal. Sales tax receipts would be distributed respectively by county, meaning that Wake County (with 870,000 inhabitants), which includes Raleigh and Cary, would get the majority of expenditures. Smaller Durham and Orange Counties (270,000 and 130,000 people, respectively) would be able to spend far less. The rejected earlier transit plan would have had no provisions of spending equity based on county population.

Wake County politicians have interpreted these rules to argue for investing first in a line between Northwest Cary and North Raleigh, through downtown Raleigh and the state capitol complex. They hope to build that 17-mile corridor, which would include nine stations, by 2019. Raleigh leaders have rejected the cheaper diesel multiple unit standard previously promoted and replaced it with light rail, which they consider a better technology.

Meanwhile, Durham and Orange Counties, which share a federally-designated metropolitan planning organization (Raleigh and Cary share another one), are holding discussions about a light rail line between downtown Durham and the University of North Carolina, via southwest Durham; this 15.8-mile project would open by 2023. Chapel Hill, closer to Durham both literally and politically (both are far further to the left than relatively conservative Raleigh), wants better commutes to Duke University and Durham’s 9th Street shopping area, as well as the rapidly improving downtown. South Durham, which has been the focus of rapid, spread-out growth and huge retail complexes, is left out of the picture, reasonably.

In other words, the Research Triangle Park may be excluded from initial investments, even though it is the region’s economic core and the source of its prosperity. Politicians in Raleigh and Chapel Hill argue that its suburban form would make transit there inefficient and poorly used, and they’re probably right. Durham leaders aren’t so sure, since they want a quick connection to Raleigh and most of the Park lies within Durham County borders. But it is true that there are probably more opportunities for redevelopment along the Durham-Chapel Hill line than along the Durham-Cary corridor.

The 16-mile connection between downtown Durham and Northwest Cary would come later — perhaps by 2025. This project would include an improved connection to RDU airport, though there would be no direct service. Ten years later, regional officials want to have lines spewing 9 miles southwest from Cary to Apex and 8 miles north from Raleigh to Wake Forest. Whether any of these lines could be implemented realistically considering the financial limitations of a 1/2-cent sales tax is unclear, especially since a major portion of revenues would go to expanded bus operations.

After all, Charlotte’s Mecklenberg County (population 900,000), which put a similar financing system in place in 1998, has only been able to build one 9.6-mile light rail line and won’t even begin construction on its second corridor until 2011 at the earliest.

Apart from questions of whether Triangle politicians are being realistic in their ambitions — or whether the lines they’re proposing make much economic sense, considering the region’s sprawling nature, limited current bus use, and the weak attraction of the existing urban cores — is why politicians have made a concerted choice to ignore the multipolar identity of the Triangle and instead pretend that it is split into two separate regions. At their most basic, the current proposals would provide Raleigh a light rail line heading in from its western and northern suburbs, and Durham would get a light rail line to the southwest. The goal espoused by planners in the early 2000s of connecting the region’s two largest cities has been laid by the wayside, reserved for a second phase.

In some ways, this downtown-centric policy makes a lot of sense: transit works best when it is oriented towards a job-heavy center city, since it can compete with congested routes and save commuters the cost of downtown parking. But the Triangle is unique, lacking a clear core, with few of the dense in-town neighborhoods most likely to attract transit users and with a large number of jobs in the sprawling auto-oriented research park. As a result, the two lines proposed for initial service probably won’t get many riders, at least compared to peer systems around the country.

An approach aimed directed at combating the area’s multipolar form may have been more appropriate, starting with the Raleigh-Durham inter-city line as originally designed. The most heavily used roadway in the region is I-40 between Raleigh and South Durham; the county-centric proposals wouldn’t address this corridor at all.

Or — hard as it is to admit for this native of Durham — perhaps the Triangle is simply not ready for rail rapid transit. How will trains in any of the corridors mentioned here ever attract adequate use when the biggest core, Raleigh’s downtown, only has 40,000 jobs and just a few thousand residents? When will the trains ever get the kind of traffic that necessitates their higher capacity compared to buses? By comparison, Charlotte’s center city has more than 10,000 inhabitants and 80,000 jobs — and it’s relatively small from the perspective of transit-encouraging cores.

If implemented with rapid lanes on the freeways and dedicated rights-of-way in the downtowns, the region could probably get a whole lot more for its money with an upscale bus rapid transit service. Lines could run directly between Raleigh and Chapel Hill or between Durham and North Raleigh without the inconvenient and time-consuming detours that will limit potential traffic.

But I could be wrong. The region is clearly interested in spending its own funds on these transit projects. The cities do need some kind of structural device to organize and encourage dense development; bus rapid transit wouldn’t do that nearly as well as would light rail. These cities have been sprawling so much that only a radical investment may help them reverse course. Perhaps it’s time to take a chance.

$520M puts fast trains on fast track (News and Observer)

$520M puts fast trains on fast track (News and Observer)

North Carolina is expected to receive $520 million today as part of $8 billion in federal economic stimulus funds President Barack Obama will distribute in 31 states to start building a national high-speed rail network.

The president touted high-speed rail in Wednesday night’s State of the Union Address, and he and other administration officials are fanning out across the nation today to announce the funding. Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will come to Durham’s new Amtrak station to discuss North Carolina’s allotment in an event scheduled for 1:15 p.m.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, disclosed North Carolina’s funding share. “From Raleigh to Charlotte in the near term, and Raleigh to Washington in the long term, we’re in that charmed circle of routes where train travel can really make sense,” he said.

The state will use its share to add and upgrade tracks, trains and stations and to provide faster and more frequent rail service between Charlotte and Raleigh. The effort is part of a planned Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor that will continue north from Raleigh to Richmond and Washington, D.C.

North Carolina and Virginia have planned the corridor since the early 1990s. North Carolina has spent about $5 million a year, working with railroads to straighten curves, add double tracks and increase train speeds – cutting an hour from travel between Raleigh and Charlotte.

Now, the state Department of Transportation will push a plan to cut that time by another hour. Train speeds are expected to reach 90 mph between Charlotte and Raleigh – and, eventually, 110 mph between Raleigh and Richmond.

Obama will be in Tampa, Fla, this morning to announce his plans for the $8 billion funds to support projects in 13 rail corridors across the nation. Florida, California and Midwestern and Northeastern states are expected to be among the big winners.

A down payment

North Carolina leaders hope the $520 million will be a down payment on their plan to build out the Southeast corridor. In all, the state last year asked the Obama administration for $5.3 billion – with most of that money, about $3.7 billion, earmarked for a new rail shortcut between Raleigh and Richmond. Virginia seeks about $1.7 billion for improvements between Richmond and Washington.

Much of the money will be spent to buy right of way, replace curved tracks with straighter tracks, build passing sidings or double tracks where there are single tracks now, improve stations or build new ones, and build bridges over roads to eliminate at-grade crossings. North Carolina’s proposal includes new rail stops in Lexington and Hillsborough, a new station in Charlotte and planning for a new Raleigh station.

In addition to $8 billion included in last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriation, Congress put another $2.5 billion for high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects in this year’s federal budget. North Carolina is expected to seek a share of that money in the next few months and to pursue more federal rail funding in coming years.

Eugene Conti, the state transportation secretary, declined to confirm North Carolina’s share of the money but promised to make good use of it. “We think whatever the number is is going to give us a good start on a program that’s going to pay many dividends over the years for our state and our country,” he said.

Price said North Carolina will have to make a good case for more rail funding.

“The best proof of the worth of that will be to make this Raleigh-to-Charlotte train a crackerjack run. Make these trains succeed,” Price said.

bruce.siceloff@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4527
Published Thu, Jan 28, 2010 02:00 AM
Modified Thu, Jan 28, 2010 05:32 AM

Western North Carolina train plans take back seat (Asheville Citizen Times)

Western North Carolina train plans take back seat (Asheville Citizen Times)

A long-stalled plan to bring passenger trains to Asheville could inch forward in the next few months, but it lags other rail projects as a top state priority.

Faster train rides through major population centers will stay at the top of state officials’ wish list.

North Carolina has applied for more than $5 billion in stimulus funding for rail, ambitious considering the federal government is allocating just $8 billion nationwide. But a fraction would go to bringing service to the mountains.

The project isn’t on a high-speed corridor and isn’t yet shovel-ready, said Shirley Williams, environmental and planning director for the state Rail Division.

So the only stimulus money it qualifies to receive is $3 million for engineering and environmental study that it would have to split with a planned Raleigh-to-Wilmington expansion.

Supporters of westward expansion remain optimistic.

“I think it’s going to get done,” said Judy Ray, longtime chairwoman of the Western North Carolina Rail Corridor Committee. “We appear to be closer to getting the engineering study done and some of that behind us, and then we can get on with working on the service.”

Big price tag

The plan is for a 79 mph Amtrak route from Asheville to Salisbury, with fare-paying travelers and state taxpayers picking up the tab for running the trains.

Long before the first train leaves the station, though, it will be a costly project.

Rail must be straightened, elevated, rerouted to avoid some roads and double-tracked in places to allow passenger trains to pass plodding freight trains. New signals are needed.

The project was once estimated at about $130 million but now would cost closer to $200 million, Williams said.

That doesn’t include a projected $30 million to build and expand train stations along the route.

Old Fort, Marion and Morganton renovated their historic stations in 2004 and 2005, joining Statesville, but stations have yet to be built at stops like Valdese, Black Mountain and Asheville. And all the stations need new platforms.

Officials have picked out the site for an end-of-the-line station in Biltmore Village.

Williams hopes the federal government, which is now weighing how to distribute an unprecedented amount of rail funding from the stimulus, could chip in for WNC as well. There’s talk in Congress of more rail funding in future years, she said.

“I guess I’m hopeful that with the interest in having an alternative transportation system, that rail is going to get more funding,” she said.

For now, though, just $2 million in state and federal funds would be spent on the Asheville line, if the Obama administration chips in its share.

Main routes take priority

Passenger rail to Asheville began in 1880 and eventually linked the area with cities like New Orleans, Chicago and New York, according to a Department of Transportation study. The routes were popular with wealthy families who headed to the mountains for summer vacations.

Norfolk Southern Corp. ended regular service to Asheville in 1975. The company has said the trains had too few riders outside of peak tourist season.

Today, Asheville is the most-requested destination that Amtrak doesn’t serve, Williams said.

First up on the state’s priority list, though, is fast-tracking existing rail service. Most of the $5 billion requested would upgrade track from Charlotte to Greensboro to Raleigh and points north.

The goal is for trains to zoom along at top speeds of 90-110 mph between Charlotte and Washington.

Rep. Ray Rapp, a leading advocate in the General Assembly for expanding rail to the mountains, said the state needs to improve its main “arteries” before tapping new “veins” like the one to Asheville.

“I think it will eventually happen, but what we’ve got to do is put this system together piece by piece,” said Rapp, a Mars Hill Democrat.

Ray said a growing North Carolina requires more rail.

“We can’t keep laying concrete roads,” she said. “We can’t keep putting more and more cars and trucks on the road, so what better way to go than on the train?”
November 13, 2009
By Jordan Schrader

US Railroad Head: Hopeful For January $8 Billion Stimulus Spending (NASDAQ)

US Railroad Head: Hopeful For January $8 Billion Stimulus Spending (NASDAQ)

EVANSTON, Ill. -(Dow Jones)- The Federal Railroad Administration will award $8 billion in stimulus money to develop high-speed-passenger-rail service to various state applicants this winter, “hopefully in January,” Joseph Szabo, administrator of the U.S. railroad oversight agency said following a presentation Monday.

Speaking at a Northwestern University symposium on transportation policy, Szabo said the number of requests for stimulus funds has far exceeded his expectations. The agency had planned to divvy up the money in October, but “the fact of the matter is, this is a transformational time for passenger rail. We’re taking a few more months to make sure the $8 billion is clearly invested in the right places.”

In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, Szabo said he expects the traveling public, railroads and other transportation industries to get onboard with new passenger-rail initiatives, as they will bring needed balance to the U.S. transportation system. For example, high-speed rail lines will allow airlines to focus on more lucrative long routes. “In small communities, where air service is subsidized by the government, they don’t really need air service. What they need is reliable transportation.”

Reliability is key to the success of new passenger-rail service, Szabo said. ” We want to pick projects that will be successful; success breeds success.”

Speaking earlier, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the success of U.S. high-speed rail will depend on public/private partnerships with railroad freight carriers as well as assistance from experts in Europe and Asia, where high-speed-rail service is commonplace. “There is no definition of high-speed rail,” he said, since train systems operate in many different situations. In Spain, trains can travel at 250 miles an hour, but some U.S. proposals are for trains to travel just 110 miles an hour.

LaHood told Dow Jones that the $8 billion allocated so far is a good beginning, but he expects the Obama administration to support ongoing passenger rail projects that could bring major changes to the U.S. in the next 10 to 15 years. He said states have requested stimulus money for a total of $57 billion of projects.

A broad transportation bill still needs to be addressed in the U.S. Senate, but that won’t happen until next year, when discussions on health-care legislation are over.

-By Ann Keeton, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4120; ann.keeton@dowjones.com