November 23, 2009
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High speed rail needs Feinsteinís help
BY DEAN FLOREZ AND ERIN STEVA
This article originally appeared Nov. 3, 2009, in the San Jose Mercury News.
In the next few weeks, the Senate will decide whether to heed calls here in California and around the country for increased high-speed rail investment.
Right now, Congress is ironing out its annual transportation appropriations bill. The first version included a historic $4 billion investment in high-speed rail, intended to meet the enormous nationwide demand fostered by economic recovery funds. That bill passed in the House, with a wide bipartisan majority voting on more than one occasion to reject attempts to lessen the high-speed rail funding. The one thing that Republicans and Democrats showed they can support in unison so far in this Congress is high-speed rail.
When the bill moved to the Senate, though, the Senate cut the high-speed rail appropriation to down to $1.2 billion, allocating more to highway funding. Thankfully, there is growing national momentum for high-speed rail, but funding is needed to make something happen.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has established herself as a high-speed rail champion. She has another great opportunity to stand up for high-speed rail, since she serves on the House-Senate conference committee that will finalize the bill. Its eventual choice will send an important signal to the country about Congress’ commitment to high-speed rail as an innovative solution to our nation’s transportation challenges.
High-speed rail also offers solutions to economic, energy, and environmental problems. It will put people to work, clean our air, cut our energy-consumption, facilitate travel and business and assist in the resurgence of American manufacturing.
It will begin to cut climate changing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which is responsible for 41 percent of California’s global warming pollution. California will need high-speed rail to meet its carbon reduction goals over the long run.
A $4 billion federal investment would buy new, high-performance locomotives and passenger cars built in the U.S., better signals, track and grade-crossing upgrades and removal of rail bottlenecks — all resulting in faster and more convenient travel. In California, it will create hundreds of thousands of quality jobs in fields that have experienced losses over the last decade, including the technology, construction and engineering sectors.
Funding the statewide project will add up to 450,000 permanent jobs and 160,000 construction jobs in California. This does not include the jobs related to the manufacturing of new trains.
Americans are turning to passenger rail in record numbers. Rail travel ridership increased each of the last six years, while vehicle miles traveled for cars and trucks has fallen over the last two years for the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s.
State and local leaders are searching for the means to meet this demand. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the Federal Railroad Administration has received at least 300 pre-applications from 40 states totaling more than $100 billion in requests for high-speed, intercity passenger rail grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
History holds a cautionary tale:
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson and Congress joined forces to successfully create the fastest passenger train in the world.
The technology worked, but Congress did not follow through with the funding for the high-speed track. Now, Sen. Feinstein and her colleagues have the power to make history.
Sen. Feinstein has championed high-speed rail in the past, and we need that leadership again.
Florez is majority leader of the California State Senate. Steva is the transportation advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group.