Before the Thanksgiving break, House Republicans voted to kill a transportation appropriations bill that resulted in the majority of funding for America’s high speed rail program being eliminated. The GOP cheered at the death of President Obama’s national rail network plan; but their jubilation came premature. When the vote went to the Senate things changed – the bill was not dead but not really alive either.
Prior to the House vote, the Obama Administration had envisioned spending $53 billion on a nationwide high speed rail program over a six year period, including more than $8 billion next year. Beginning in 2008, under the Passenger Rail Investment Act, or PRIA, Congress spent about $2 billion a year on the American high speed rail program. But last year, Congress stopped appropriating money for high speed rail; essentially derailing President Obama’s expressed intention to connect 80% of Americans to high speed rail by 2036. Even with all these setbacks against an American high speed rail program, President Barack Obama inserted $4 billion for high speed rail into his American Jobs Act.
It is no secret that America’s rail program, that was once great, is now in shambles. Other developed and developing countries, such as China, have long surpassed the American rail program by building high speed services that connect cities and people across their nations.
The hope was that the construction of a national high speed rail network would, in the U.S., provide Americans with an alternative means of transportation, provide jobs, and act as a spark in rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure. Ultimately, the national rail plan was seen by many as a monetary expenditure that the U.S. cannot afford and that was bogged down in some states, most notably California, by too much red tape.
Rather than allow the Obama bill to pass, some legislators felt that the bill should be killed. Not as a means to end high speed rail in America for good, oh no, the action of killing the Obama bill would be used to restart the plan on a blank slate. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said,
“Today’s vote marks the end to President Obama’s misguided high speed rail program, but it also represents a new beginning for true intercity high-speed passenger rail service in America. By zeroing out high-speed intercity passenger rail funding, we are being given the unique opportunity to refocus and reform the high-speed rail program on the rail lines that will produce the most benefit for the least amount of cost.”
“The Obama Administration bungled its high-speed rail program from the start, losing an important opportunity to build true high-speed rail in areas where it makes sense, like the Northeast Corridor,” he said. “Instead, billions of dollars were spread too thin around the country and spent on incremental improvements to existing Amtrak services that weren’t high-speed at all.”
Across the aisle, Democrats in the House conceded that the Obama plan was far from perfect but was the best that could be worked out given the poor American economy.
For their part, Democrats in the House said the bill Thursday was “far from perfect,” but they were resigned to the fate of the rail money for now. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said,
“For too long, we have been over-dependent on cars and planes. High Speed Rail should be an option between any cities within a 500 mile radius, providing competitive trip times and fares, freeing up airspace, and benefiting our environment, economy, and national security. It makes no sense to abandon our efforts to develop High Speed Rail in this country.”
With the Obama bill killed in the House the bill went to the Senate, where it received a bit of life after death. The Senate committee voted to restore $100 million in spending to the high speed rail program. Some spending at least keeps the program alive – sort of.
With a zombified high speed rail funding bill lurking around some progress will still be done on establishing a nationwide high speed rail line; but with the limited funds not much progress can be made. Meanwhile, instead of looking at a nationwide system all attention is now focused on the existing rails in the Northeast and improvements that can be made to them using high speed train technology.
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison