State gets a rail-funding bonanza

U.S. money, rejected by Wisconsin and Ohio, welcome here

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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Washington officially scored another $145 million in federal high-speed rail funding this week. The money had been rejected by newly elected governors in Ohio and Wisconsin.

The latest federal commitment includes $10 million for 1,300 feet of new track in Vancouver.

It also includes $46.7 million for the Washington Department of Transportation to add eight new locomotives to the Amtrak Cascades fleet. The train purchase, combined with a series of track upgrades throughout BNSF Railway’s main line in Western Washington, will by the year 2017 add two round trips to the four Cascades trains running daily between Seattle and Portland.

The process is expedited by Ohio and Wisconsin’s Republican governors’ refusal to accept federal funding.

“We’re just excited and happy that they said, ‘No, thank you,’” said Dianna Lahmann, a DOT spokeswoman in Olympia. “And we say, ‘Thanks,’ to them.”

Washington previously received $590 million for track upgrades intended to relieve freight congestion, while improving the frequency and on-time reliability of passenger trains.

“We have to get these projects done in order to add the trains,” Lahmann said.

The state is also vying for another $120 million, after Florida’s new governor rejected $2.4 billion for a new high-speed rail corridor connecting Tampa and Orlando International Airport.

Florida’s loss may be Washington’s gain.

In that case, the Port of Vancouver stands ready to receive $18.3 million for a waterproof “river trench” carrying trains beneath the main Columbia River rail bridge to the Port of Vancouver. The port would contribute about half of the cost of the $36 million trench, which would become the main point of access to the port from the Columbia River Gorge, port spokeswoman Theresa Wagner said.

“We’re hopeful,” she said.