Updated: Nov 23, 2021
This last week was a big week for infrastructure as President Biden on November 15th signed into law the Infrastructure Bill. This was the first of two infrastructure bills and this one contained up $66 billion for passenger rail, mostly going to Amtrak.
However, for high speed rail Friday Nov 19th was the bigger day as the stalled Build Back Better Bill was passed by the US House of Representatives. The Build Back Better Bills contains the $10 billion for high speed rail. Unlike the infrastructure bill, this 2nd bill will be passed as part of the US budget. This avoids the mechanisms that the Republicans traditionally have used such as the filibuster because a simple majority is only needed to pass the bill....but that has been the problem. Not all Democrat Senators are united and which is stalling the bill. However, the bill was passed by the US House of Representatives with a 220 for vs. 213 against. No Republicans voted for the bill, and no Republicans are expected to vote for the bill when it reaches the Senate.
The Build Back Better Bill now goes to Senate, where is could potentially be hung up by Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, but it is likely that both senators will support the bill and pass it before Christmas, but there will be some hangups and delays in the meantime. President Joe Biden would then sign the bill into law in late December or in January.
While the Build Back Better Bill's passage is a good thing for America, the fact that no Republicans will likely vote for it is problematic for Wisconsin. After all, the Republican led legislature in Wisconsin is becoming more and more aggressive and downright radical with attempts at shutting down election boards and significant misinformation campaigns (not even talking about Aaron Rogers here) This means that if high speed rail is proposed for Wisconsin prior to the 2022 election, the Republicans will very, very likely attack high speed rail as a waste of taxpayer money and a train to nowhere. Even though Chicago to Minneapolis system through Wisconsin would bring more jobs and economic development than the failed Republican Foxconn "Flying Eagle" Project of 2017.
On November 5th Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (AKA "Infrastructure Bill"). First, it is important to point out that this IS NOT the bill that has the $10 billion for high speed rail. That is the Build Back Better Bill that up till last week was being held up by Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Sinema. That bill has all the social programs and hotly contested items that we have been hearing in the news, which unfortunately the dedicated high speed rail funding is having to ride along with.
Now the bill that was passed last week…. does have a lot of funding for Amtrak, transit, and roads. In fact, this will be the most amount of funding Amtrak has ever received, with over $6 billion going to the Northeast Corridor, over $12 billion for national network, and $7.5 billion for Federal-State partnerships for intercity rail. These numbers were taken directly and confirmed in the the bill by the author, but other numbers floated out there range from $44 to $66 billion for Amtrak, so it is a bit confusing. However, one thing is clear….Amtrak is in control of passenger rail money.
So after President Biden signs the bill, the next step will be for the Department of Transportation to decide how to allocate the funds within 180 days. This is where things are opaque.
The $6 billion going to Amtrak for the Northeast Corridor Service is a given. President Biden loves Amtrak, so it is also pretty much given that Amtrak will get the $12 billion for a national network. Of course, no one really understands what that means. For example, does that mean that the money will go to the host railroads to upgrade their tracks? Or is that money going to purchase new viewliners? That is still to be decided. However, it is ironic how much of the bill was dedicated towards Amtrak keeping employees, such as station clerks, and that food must pay for itself….which not sure what that means for first class travel where food is part of the ticket price.
Now $7.5 billion for Federal State-partnerships is uncertain. Amtrak isn’t guaranteed to get that money. After all, in a lot of regional markets Amtrak acts a vendor and some states, such as California have been moving toward other vendors. Also, this does mean that states will be seeing existing routes with new trainsets as the states traditionally buy new equipment and then give Amtrak those new trains. Now this is where Brightline has a chance (maybe Texas Central too), if they could be given franchises on behalf of the state…especially to operate commuter rail (as Brightline has already stated in Florida).
Of course, this does leave out Virgin Hyperloop and the other Hyperloop companies; and the California High Speed Rail (and perhaps Texas Central as well as Brightline West).
Unless of course the Build Back Better Plan is approved, but the future of that bill is very uncertain right now and so is the future of high speed rail.
This week, in the Infrastructure debate was all about Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia (Senator Sinema is also in the news, but she doesn't appear to have a clear picture of what she is looking for). While there was no mention of a change to high speed rail funding, the green energy initiatives are likely to be pulled from the bill. This is due primarily to Senator Manchin who receives dividends and campaign funding from the coal and energy companies, who would be greatly effected by the 2nd infrastructure bill’s (called the "reconciliation bill") green energy initiatives that would require coal and natural gas energy companies to move to wind and solar.
It is still expected that both bills will be voted on by October 31tst and based upon Senator Manchin’s actions during the Covid Relief Bill earlier this year, it is likely that he will eventually support both bills if his changes are incorporated.
As expected, the goal of finalizing the infrastructure bill in September has passed. Unfortunately both the 1st "Senate" bill passed by the US Senate and 2nd "Reconcilliation Bill" has stalled because progressives won’t allow the first that bill to go up to a vote until the 2nd bill is also up to vote. However, two conservative Democratic Senators believe the the 2nd bill is too expensive and needs to be trimmed down before it can be voted on.
Looking forward, both bills will likely still go to vote in late October or early November. There is just too much risk to all Democrats to not to pass it (plus the Republicans want the 1st bill to pass). So the 2 conservatives Democrats will come to agreement with the rest of the party. This is because the infrastructure bill will create so many new jobs and give the states so much more money. So it will eventually go to a vote, its just a question of what will be in the bill.
The money going to Amtrak and rail in the 1st bill will likely remain intact. In the 2nd bill I think the high-speed rail funding that was also added by the House Transportation Subcommittee will likely be kept. Ironically it will be because of the Hyperloop (see other article).
While Republicans do want both bills to pass, for political reasons they are against both infrastructure bills. The reasons they will vote against the bills is the Republican party is still subservient to Former President Trump, and Trump does not want the bills to pass because it would make him look like a failure. So it is all up to the Democrats to get it done.
However, the both bills should pass later this month or early next month; and high speed rail funding will likely be included.
(note: this assumption is based upon all common knowledge as of Oct 13th. There may be undisclosed information that may still change the outcome of the infrastructure bill)
From the Captain:
Infrastructure Bill: Why the Hyperloop may save High-Speed Rail in the Infrastructure Bill:
In early September, the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee added $10 billion in high speed rail funding to the 2nd Infrastructure bill. With Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia (D) withholding his vote, the whole infrastructure bill was thrown into chaos. With this occurring, why would high speed rail funding survive? Well ironically it is because of the Hyperloop.
Back in 2019, the Hyperloop was categorized as a form of high-speed rail by the Federal Railway Administration (FRA). This put the FRA in charge of safety and regulation of the Hyperloop companies. Then in July 2020, Transportation Secretary Chou announced that Hyperloop was eligible for federal funding which allows Hyperloop's to go after the same pool of funding as the high-speed rail projects.
But why would Senator Manchin want to protect funding for the Hyperloop, when he is trying to cut the size of the infrastructure package? After all, West Virginia is a mountainous state, with a low-tech manufacturing and mining economy?
Well, its because of Virgin Hyperloop.
Back in October 2020, Virgin Hyperloop announced that they are building a certification facility in northern West Virginia. Senator Manchin, as well as all of the other representatives from West Virginia and the current Governor celebrated the Virgin Hyperloop Certification Facility as way to change West Virginia into a tech economy.
In a lot of ways, this is a similar story to Foxconn here in Wisconsin. A new company comes in and says it is going to invest billions of dollars. So the Republicans celebrate the creation of potentially thousands of high tech jobs and of turning the state's economy around. Pretty similar political mindset with Virgin Hyperloop in West Virginia. However, there are a few differences:
Foxconn was a huge, foreign company, with manufacturing facilities around the world; and that never lived up to its commitment here in the Wisconsin. This ultimately led to the Foxconn plant being seen as a waste of investment and a failure, which ultimately resulted in Governor Walker being voted out of office.
However, this is where West Virginia is different. Virgin Hyperloop is an American company that is just a startup and looking for funds from the US Congress. In DC, Senator Manchin is really the one deciding what the infrastructure bill would be. So he is in control. Therefore he wants what is best for West Virginia, and wants to see Virgin Hyperloop succeed.
So it is highly possible that not only will all of the high speed rail funding remain in the final infrastructure bills; but there is a chance we may see it even increased. After all, it is going to take more than $10 billion to build a Hyperloop system. Unfortunately we won’t know exactly what will happen until the bill is voted on; but it is odd to think that Hyperloop might save funding for high speed rail!
An interesting article showing Senator Manchins support for Hyperloop:
High Speed Rail 101: SNCF (French National Railways)
About the TGV and SNCF:
While the Japanese were the first to develop the modern version of high speed rail, the French were second when they launched the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, meaning "high-speed train") in 1981 between Paris and Lyon. Since then SNCF has built over 1,700 miles of high speed rail supporting speeds of 170+mph.
However, SNCF’s influence extends far out from France. Since launching service in France in 1981, the French have spread their tech to:
Thalys in Belgium and the Netherlands
Eurostar between the UK and France is another version
AVE in Spain (first generation models)
KTX in South Korea uses the TGV technology.
Most importantly, the TGV tech is already here in the US. Amtrak’s Acela uses a modified version of the TGV technology!
For the Acela the motors, electrical/drivetrain system , truck structure,brakes, and crash energy management technology are taken from the TGV, although the carriages are not from the TGV. Bombardier, the officially builder of the Acela, used its own LRC trains as a basis for the custom built carriages to adhere to the Federal Railway Administration regulations.
The next generation Acela trainsets (called Avelia Liberty) are also going to be based upon the TGV designs, but built from Alstrom instead of Bombardier.
SNCF's Plan for the US:
It is interesting to note that back in 2009, SNCF was planning on building a whole high speed rail network across the US; focusing on Florida, Texas, the Midwest, and California. Even more intriguing is that all but the Midwest proposal did eventually turn into actual projects. Here are those business plans:
For more background on these business plans, check out this blog from 2009:
The Transport Politic