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GAO Says We Need More Than a Vision for High Speed Rail

Excited about the prospect of high speed rail in America? Lots of people have been. But as Yonah Freemark reports on The Transport Politic, yesterday the General Accountability Office threw a bit of a wet blanket on the growing enthusiasm. The GAO is saying the Obama administration has so far failed to provide clear goals and a comprehensive plan for a high speed rail system:

254090836_5e5e644124_m.jpgWant trains like Spain's? We need a plan. Photo by dewet via Flickr.
[A]t a [June 23] hearing in the U.S. Senate, General Accounting Office Director of Physical Infrastructure Susan Fleming described her concerns about the government’s distribution of high-speed rail funds. She focused on the Federal Railroad Administration’s unwillingness thus far to lay out specific goals for American fast train strategy and argued that the Department of Transportation must establish a coordinated, long-term plan for providing funds. Meanwhile, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo continued to mistakenly argue that U.S. plans match those of European countries.

Ms. Fleming’s statement comes three months after the release of GAO’s major report on high-speed rail, which advocated a major federal investment in the transportation mode. Emphasizing that that report pushed the DOT to pinpoint specific goals for rail improvement, Ms. Fleming argued that the Obama Administration’s actions so far were little more than a “vision,” rather than “a strategic plan.”

The U.S. must “define goals for investing in high speed rail,” she said, and describe “how these investments will achieve them, how the federal government will determine which corridors it could invest in, [and] how high speed rail investments could be evaluated against possible alternative modes in those corridors.” Ms. Fleming said that the FRA largely agreed with her opinions. In fact, DOT has been planning to release a draft national rail plan by mid-October; however, that is a month after the FRA will release initial stimulus bill grants to applicant projects for rail investment.

Meanwhile, Greater Greater Washington looks at Metro's safety systems in the wake of Monday's crash. Complete Streets Blog reports they're rallying for complete streets in Topeka, KS.  And Hard Drive writes about a study that shows that for the first time, more people in Amsterdam are making trips by bicycle than by car.