Biden: Obama Budget To Include Another $8 Billion For High-Speed Rail - Business Travel News

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Biden: Obama Budget To Include Another $8 Billion For High-Speed Rail

February 09, 2011 - 09:35 AM ET

By Lauren Darson

Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Obama administration will dedicate another $8 billion toward high-speed rail in the proposed U.S. federal budget expected next week. The plan calls for $53 billion over six years "to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network." President Barack Obama last month during his State of the Union speech stated a goal to provide "80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years."

The $8 billion would follow an initial "down payment" of $2.5 billion from the fiscal year 2010 budget and $8 billion allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The White House press office said funding sources would be outlined in the proposed budget.

Speaking Tuesday during a press conference at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, Biden said the plan focuses on attracting private industry, state and city support to maintain and operate tracks in various rail corridors throughout the country.

A simplified process would enable states, cities and private companies to apply for grants from one of two $4 billion accounts: One for network development, focused on building new infrastructure, stations, and equipment, and the other for maintaining Amtrak and other publicly owned assets, bringing stations into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and providing "temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed."

The plan includes three types of high-speed rail: a core express running on dedicated tracks at average speeds between 125 and 250 miles per hour, regional service with average speeds of 90 to 125 miles per hour, and rail service from lower-demand areas, running at about 90 miles per hour and connecting to rail hubs.

U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and railroads subcommittee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) issued a joint statement outlining "extreme reservations" regarding the administration's plan. According to Mica, "This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio. Amtrak's Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service."

Mica suggested the initial $10.5 billion was spent unwisely, spread too thinly across the nation rather than focused on the congested Northeast Corridor.

The House Transportation Committee announced plans to investigate "how previous funding decisions were made," according to Schuster. "I am concerned that without appropriate controls to ensure the most worthy projects are the ones that receive funding, high-speed rail funding could become another political grab bag for the president."

Last November, newly elected Republican governors John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin pushed back on high-speed by saying they would reject the funding originally designated to their states. They claimed the states over time would be too financially burdened to maintain tracks.

Biden acknowledged that concern, saying, "A single extra runway in Jacksonville, Fla., costs $1.3 billion. When you talk about the investments in rail, they pale in comparison to the runways."

Senate Transportation Committee chairman John Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.) issued a statement in support of the proposal.

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