Yesterday's hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was interesting and insightful. Chairman Mica and Subcommittee Chairman Shuster are pushing for much better passenger rail service on the Northeast Corridor (true high speed rail between NYC and Washington -- a two hour trip) by bidding out the Amtrak-owned asset and bringing other private operators into the mix. I find it refreshing to see some GOP Members of Congress calling for better passenger train service, when so many of them have a voting record of absolute hostility to trains.
Senator Frank Lautenberg appeared before the House Committee (which is kind of cool) in opposition to the GOP proposal to privatize the Northeast Corridor. His main argument is also true which is that Amtrak has been absolutely under-funded relative to the economic benefits the transportation mode provides. His one lines (which I sent out a tweet from the @HSRail twitter account for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and got RT'd 72 times!) is the title of this diary:
"Amtrak has received less federal money in its history than highways get in one year." said Senator Lautenberg (@FrankLautenberg) Compelling! So what comes next? Besides the policy debate over how to get true high speed rail (Amtrak-owned infrastructure, role for private capital, relationships with states and freight railroads), the FY2012 budget is coming, and we need to push to include investment in rail, because things are not looking great on that front. (More after the jump)
Turns out, no one has done more than President Barack Obama to invest in rail (at least since President Abraham Lincoln). He personally inserted $8 billion into the Recovery Act for high speed rail in the last day of negotiations, representing a 17-fold increase in the feds capital program. That has funded $3B or so for California's bullet train project and another $5 or $6B for projects around the nation, primarily incremental upgrades to freight networks that Amtrak runs on.
In FY2010, after a great fight when the House had a budget for $4 billion for high speed rail, the Senate had a budget with $1.3B, the final Dem budget ended up with $2.5 billion in annual funds for high speed rail. This was extraordinary. Great for economic development, great for slowing climate change, great for improving mobility for all. The right thing to do.
A few months ago, the Obama Administration upped the ante and called for $8.5B in annual funds for high speed rail with a thrilling speech by Vice-President Biden in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Then came the Tea Party.
As part of cutting government spending, high speed rail got axed. Not only did the entire FY2011 budget get eliminated -- that's zero -- the FY2010 budget was rescinded down to $2.1B (as $400M was still not obligated, thanks to Tea Party Governors inexplicably turning down federal investment in rail projects in their states).
Now we face FY2012's budget. This is where you can come in.
Tell your Member of Congress to support $2.5 billion. A new Passenger Rail Caucus in DC has been formed, pushing for the $2.5B in FY2012. Ask your three Members to join.
Not to mention fully funding Amtrak!
And finally, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association will be at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis next month. Stop by and say hello to Madeline.