It's no surprise that only a handful of states were awarded the $8 billion in stimulus rail grants awarded last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation rail. Thirty-two states applied with requests totaling $50 billion, but the truth is few states are ready for rail money. Most DOTs and legislatures have little rail expertise or actionable plans.
Until recently, rail didn't leverage federal dollars. If a state wanted to add a lane to a freeway, it was eligible for an 80 percent federal match. But if it wanted to enhance an existing Amtrak service or create a new rail corridor between its cities, it got zero federal dollars. Still a few states began investing anyway, realizing that if they wanted more passenger service, they would have to create it themselves.
Washington put $100 million into the Amtrak Cascades between Portland and Seattle, purchasing European-styled coaches from Spain. Wisconsin subsidizes the Hiawatha service running six times a day betwe