Mitchell argued that trains are a "money-losing scheme" in the long run for states because they have to pay for maintenance and upkeep themselves once the federal dollars stop flowing. Supporters of high-speed rail argue that applies for all public infrastructure, not just trains.
The bulk of the money for the project is being sent to the coasts, namely California and New York. Governors in both states have expressed their willingness to work closely with the federal government to develop infrastructure and advance the train system.
The first part of the project includes upgrading railways like the one that carries travelers between Washington and Boston on America's only high-speed train, Amtrak's Acela. Next up is creating new high-speed corridors in places like California, the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast.
Insiders say the project got off to a rocky start. Despite the hefty investment from the federal government, the announcement early last year came at a time states were not quite ready to take projects off the ground.
But proponents of the plan say the stimulus jumpstarted states into moving quickly from the planning stage to the implementation stage.
"The stimulus came at a very critical time. The transit systems around the country have suffered from the economic downturn," Guzzetti said. "The stimulus was a real lifesaver for many of them."
Another challenge is that the Transportation Department hasn't previously implemented the large-scale, high-speed passenger rail program called for in the stimulus and lacks the experience necessary in overseeing its design and construction, as the agency acknowledged in a report last year.