State Seeks Stimulus Funds to Study High-Speed Rail

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 24, 2009 12:00 am  

In most cases, Flower added, the state would have to build overpasses where intersecting traffic occurs.

The study will put a cost to those changes, Flowers said. Who would pay for those overpasses "is undetermined at this time," Flowers said, adding that it would depend on how much funding the rail program gets in the future.

The Obama administration's budget allocated $5 billion to execute the strategic high-speed rail plan. That amount, which comes on top of the preliminary $8 billion, is to be paid out in portions of $1 billion per year.

The engineering firm selected for the project would also attempt to quantify any potential reduced strain on the state's highways resulting from less use. The state would, in theory, reap some savings from reduced use, primarily in the form of fewer road repairs.

Conversely, the firm also would need to determine whether adding high-speed passenger trains to the existing line would crowd some freight trains off those tracks, Levinson said, resulting in freight traffic moving to trucks and the highways. If the firm found that to be a likely outcome, the engineers would then need to calculate the increased strain on the highways.

After weighing all those factors, the chosen firm would determine if using an existing track is the most efficient option.

"Whether you can use the track itself or whether you have to build a parallel track with different characteristics is something that would have to be determined," Flowers said.

"I think new rails would need to be laid in most cases - or existing rails re-laid - as the loads from [high-speed rail] are quite different than freight," Levinson said.

Experts don't know whether using an existing route is more cost effective.

"Because this is new," Arthur said. "This is all very new."

All Aboard

Once Arkansas' Transportation Department gets the federal check, it would immediately begin advertising, requesting letters of interest from engineering firms, which, Flowers said, would definitely occur before the end of the year.



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