President Barack Obama's administration hasn't released details of tomorrow's announcement of $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail development, but the fact that he's making the announcement in Florida means that the Sunshine State will be a big winner. It likely will receive billions for a Tampa-to-Orlando line, in what one Florida lawmaker called the biggest economic boost for the state since Mickey Mouse and his pals moved in.
Western Pennsylvania has two applications for the money -- a $2.3 billion request that would fund the first stage of a magnetic levitation train from Pittsburgh International Airport to Downtown and Greensburg, and a $750,000 bid to do a feasibility study of improving Amtrak service from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.
The maglev developers as of today (Wednesday) hadn't heard from Washington, an indication that their wish may not be coming true. Maglev CEO Fred Gurney has acknowledged the long odds from the start -- there were $57 billion in applications for the $8 billion. The project, which has many detractors, has not been helped by the severe decline in flights and passenger volume at PIT since US Airways closed its hub.
The other funding request would be a baby step toward improving the slow, dismal rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Major improvements have been made from Harrisburg to Philly but the western half of the system has been the poor orphan.
PennDOT is seeking more than $500 million for further upgrades to the Harrisburg-to-Philly line. That's probably a better bet to receive serious money. The White House says 13 rail corridors and 31 states will share in the $8 billion, which was allocated in last year's economic stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.