APTA | Passenger Transport
March 16, 2009

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LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE COVERAGE

U.S. High-Speed Rail: Time is Right?

The Obama Administration’s inclusion of $8 billion in funding for intercity and high-speed rail in the ARRA legislation means that, after years of preparation, the time is finally right for America to join the rest of the world.

Those were the sentiments of Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, CA, and chair of the APTA High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee, at a session entitled “Commuter and High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Issues” held during APTA’s Legislative Conference.  

“High-speed rail fights global warming, puts people to work, and makes us globally competitive,” Diridon said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point; now, with the stars aligned and the right people in office, it’s being given to us on a silver platter. We need to put the money to work immediately.”

“High-speed rail has been my top priority since my first day,” said Mike Meenan, minority counsel to the House T&I Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. “Last year we reauthorized Amtrak and passed the rail safety bill; now it’s time to move forward with the high-speed rail agenda.”

He cited two sections of the Amtrak reauthorization legislation that relate to high-speed rail. Section 502 requires the Federal Railroad Administration to receive proposals for 10 high-speed rail corridors as well as the Northeast Corridor, with trains operating 25 percent faster than they do currently. Section 501 provides $1.5 billion for high-speed rail development in federally designated corridors. He noted that FRA has received more than 95 statements of interest regarding high-speed rail projects.

Jennifer Esposito, majority staff director with the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, provided an overview of rail safety and development measures, including the provisions in ARRA. She noted a rail safety bill that provides $1.6 billion through Fiscal Year 2013, and emphasized that Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the full T&I Committee, “is focused on transparency and accountability” with regard to making sure transit agencies are receiving ARRA funds and creating jobs.

Melissa Porter, transportation counsel with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, cited reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Board and rail competition issues as “the top” of the committee’s agenda. She also said the committee chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), is interested in establishing objectives and goals for surface transportation improvements.

“What you’re going to see coming out of FRA is fully supported by the Obama Administration,” said acting FRA Deputy Administrator Jo Strang. “I can’t think of a more exciting time to work for FRA.”

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