Transport Trains

California and Amtrak join forces to tackle cost of high-speed rail together

Jan 18, 2013 11:05 am

Skift Take

This is a smart move and the best possible chance that the U.S. has for introducing high-speed rail in two places that would immediately benefit, the Northeast Corridor and the West Coast.

— Samantha Shankman

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Jeff Roberson  / AP Photo

In this July 9, 2007, file photo Amtrak's Lincoln Service train passes Illinois cornfields as it speeds through a crossing en route to Chicago. Jeff Roberson / AP Photo


The two biggest players in the nation’s pursuit of high-speed rail said Thursday they’ll work together to search for trains that will operate at up to 220 miles per hour along both coasts of the United States.

Officials with Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority said they envision that the two systems will purchase about 60 trains over the next decade. The first order could take place next year.

The aim is for manufacturers to design trains that will work for both systems. In the process, their combined buying power should generate better pricing from manufacturers.

“By combining our buying power, potentially, we can drive the market in a way that we can’t if we purchase separately,” said Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

California is expected to begin construction on its high-speed rail in the summer. The first 65-mile segment will run from Merced to Fresno.

The high-speed rail efforts in California have come under increased scrutiny by members of Congress who say it has become too expensive to build and operate. The more ties it has with Amtrak, the better its future prospects might be, but officials said the announcement was not designed to bolster high-speed rail in California.

“It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to go out and have a different set of standards for California or any other high-speed train,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “So, no, it’s about doing the right thing for the United States.”

Morales said the high-speed line that would serve California has much in common with Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in terms of population, traffic congestion and economic output.

“If the case is there for investing in the Northeast, that same case can be made for the West Coast and California. We think there’s very good reason to look at them as a pair,” Morales said. “That’s something we’re talking to Amtrak about, to align our interests where it makes senses to align them.”

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