High-Speed Rail Lobbying Campaign Revives the “$4B” Rallying Cry

The lobbying coalition that helped prod Congress into approving $2.5 billion for high-speed rail last year — twice as much as the Senate had originally set aside — today kicked off a new campaign urging lawmakers to approve $4 billion for bullet trains next year and $2.6 billion for Amtrak.

obama_green_high_speed_rail.jpg(Photo: TreeHugger)

At an event in the capital’s Union Station, groups as disparate as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the infrastructure reform advocates at Transportation for America linked arms to push for the maximum amount of federal funding, as well as a dedicated long-term source of high-speed rail revenue.

"We simply cannot afford a false start on high-speed rail," said John Krieger, staff attorney at the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), a consumer protection group and member of the rail coalition.

Nick Martinelli, the legislative director to House rail subcommittee chairman Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), candidly assessed the resources required to continue the bullet-train momentum that began when the Obama administration added an $8 billion infusion to its stimulus bill last year.

An additional $1 billion for high-speed rail — the level that the White House requested in its 2011 budget — "would not even cover planning costs" for states that want to construct their own networks, Martinelli said.

That robust demand for high-speed rail, as state transport officials often note, is largely dependent on Congress agreeing to set aside funding for such projects in the coming decades. But such dedicated revenue is a question that must be resolved in a new six-year federal infrastructure bill, which faces an uncertain future on the Hill amid widespread resistance to gas tax increases.

Martinelli urged rail advocates to focus on the Senate, where appropriators initially sought to give high-speed rail $1.2 billion before compromising with the House, which had met the lobbying coalition’s $4 billion goal, on a $2.5 billion infusion.

"Clearly the Senate should be moving strongly" to support bullet train expansion, he said, citing the ambitious rail agenda in Senate environment panel chairman Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) home state. "It’s fair to say that the House is generally disappointed with what the Senate has done on transportation."

But Martinelli also acknowledged the scheduling realities now confronting lawmakers, many of whom will start focusing primarily on their re-election campaigns by mid-summer. A final decision on federal high-speed rail spending, he said, is likely to follow last year’s pattern and not emerge until after the November elections.

  • Brandi

    $4 Billion would go a lot further than $2.5 Billion or $1 Billion. I mean with $4 Billion a sizable chunk could be given to the the Northeast, California, and the Midwest with a little for everyone else. I’m just hoping the Northeast doesn’t get completely shafted again and California really needs more money. I’m definitely going to make sure to call and write.

  • Dan Johnson-Weinberger

    Thanks for the coverage and for writing/calling Brandi. Given our continued addiction to foreign oil and our economic need for greater mobility without our mega-regions, we need to increase our taxpayer investment every year in high speed rail and Amtrak.

    While it isn’t clear whether there will be a transportation authorization bill, there will be an annual budget. And the amount of money we invest in high speed rail and Amtrak in our annual budget needs to increase over the $2.5B.

    The House of Representatives really deserves a lot of credit for their dramatic increase in spending for high speed rail in the FY2010 budget to $4 billion. If you’d like to see the Members who voted to support $4 billion (and those who voted to cut high speed rail spending), check out http://www.midwesthsr.org/rollcall/index.html

  • Gary Stevens

    One way to raise $4 Billion would be to put tolls on the most congested highways so they would pay for themselves. Then use the money that is freed up for transportation and put it into support for rail. A toll on the most congested interstates would lower accidents and encourage people to find more efficient ways to travel, like trains.

  • redebbm

    I agree tolls would help to pay for this but also prioritizing these projects in the budget over others, since these are “shovel-ready” once one powers through red tape and NIMBYS. We also need to make sure we elect those in our local governments who do not see roads as superior to rail *cough* orange county transit authority *cough* but rather as a solution to there terrible state our roads are in. Funding HSR and local transit will get people off the roads, allowing roads to not be worn and torn nearly as much as they are today.

  • William Neil

    We citizens in the one of the nation’s most gridlocked regions, where the auto still reigns supreme and the only large dreams allowed are private ones, appreciate any solid attempts to build better rail.

    As the author of the only (as best as I can judge) comprehensive study of why the MD/Metro DC region’s rail vision stalled out (with a few good recent exceptions: Purple Line and Dulles Extension)after the completion of the Metro system, I’m happy to read this.

    Readers who would like an electronic version of “A Citizen’s Guide to the Missing Green Rail Vision for the MD/Metro DC Region” can send me an Email at w.neil@att.net or visit Our Future.org and type-in that title and my name, or get there by just Googling them.

    And I have a question for readers in the region: How come Maryland’s state capital, Annapolis, has no rail connection to Baltimore or Washington, even tough it’s under 20 miles from the main eastern corridor line, and had multiple connections in the late 19th and 20th century? The essay attempts an answer, because public officials refuse to supply one.

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