Mica Drops Amtrak Privatization Plan In Call for Northeast Corridor HSR

Speaking at a press conference today, Mica backed off plans to privatize Amtrak service in the Northeast. He was joined by New York State Sen. Malcolm Smith and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler. Photo: Noah Kazis.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica backed off his controversial plan to privatize passenger rail on the Northeast Corridor today, announcing at a press conference that reforming Amtrak would suffice.

Mica stood with New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler at a conference held by the US High Speed Rail Association to announce further support for true high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor. Mica has previously singled out the Boston-to-Washington corridor as the only proper location for high-speed rail (in contrast to the Obama Administration’s nationwide approach). Today, he urged that if any more high-speed rail funds are returned to the federal government, they be disbursed to the northeast. “Any further money for high-speed rail needs to go solely to the Northeast Corridor,” he said.

Mica said his goal was to see travel times as fast as in Amtrak’s ambitious proposal, but within a decade, instead of the 30-year timeline Amtrak set out.

Given Mica’s previous support for privatizing the Northeast Corridor, today’s announcement raises questions about how a revitalized push for high-speed rail along the route would be structured. Amtrak will be involved, Mica promised. “If there wasn’t an Amtrak, we’d have to create an Amtrak,” Mica said twice today. “It just needs reform.” He stated that he is no longer asking for the route to be taken away from Amtrak and that he is willing to compromise with other members of Congress and Amtrak leadership.

Even so, Mica still referred to Amtrak as a “Soviet-style train system.” It’s clear that ideological divisions linger.

Nadler, an opponent of privatization, added that there is now widespread agreement that private capital needs to be included in plans for the Northeast — Amtrak itself is seeking private investment — and also agreement that Amtrak will continue to serve the corridor. “If we all agree that Amtrak has to be the main vehicle,” said Nadler, “we have a lot of room to talk and to compromise.”

Mica did not announce or even call for additional federal funds for the Northeast Corridor, only saying he supported the reallocation of funding from any new states that return their rail money.

California is now by far the highest-profile high-speed rail project, and with the state announcing last week that the project’s estimated cost had more than doubled, Mica cast doubts about whether it would keep its funds. “I’ll give California a fighting chance, but it doesn’t look too good for the future,” he said. “If that money is going to lie dormant or just be spent, be tinkled away on a bunch of studies and not produce, I want that money here in the Northeast Corridor.” Mica added that he wasn’t trying to kill the California project, just lay out a Plan B for what would happen if it failed.

Rep. Maloney forcefully advocated for the creation of high-speed rail in the Northeast. “Our highways and airports are nearing capacity,” she said. “The Northeast Corridor contains 20 percent of the nation’s population and only two percent of the nation’s land.” There is, Maloney concluded, “no better program or project than investing in high-speed rail.”

In Mica’s keynote speech to the USHSR, he restated his pleasure that House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor had committed to maintaining current transportation funding levels rather than reducing spending to what is available in the dwindling Highway Trust Fund. “That gives us the money to do what we need to do,” he said.

Mica said that Boehner would be responsible for determining where the additional revenue would come from and did not mention the Speaker’s recent announcement that the plan is to pay for the transportation bill with revenue from oil drilling.

Mica also urged the crowd, made up of high-speed rail advocates and representatives from large transportation firms, to work to educate Congress on the need for high-speed rail. There are 19 freshmen Republicans on the transportation committee alone, he noted. “Most of them have not been on legislative bodies before,” said Mica. “We have a lot of educating to do.”

  • Willie Green

    Despite John Mica’s willingness to “compromise” on HSR development in the NE corridor. his priorities regarding our NATIONAL needs for regional passenger rail service are still politically suspect.

    It is true that the NE corridor is one of the few regions in our nation with sufficient population density that may justify the enormous investment required for state-of-the-art HSR technology. However it is also the high density of existing infrastructure in this region that imposes delays and escalates construction costs. 

    Mica’s eagerness to divert funding away from other regional projects where upgrade of passenger rail service is more pragmatic indicates that he still does not grasp our national requirement for efficient transportation infrastructure adapted to the energy challenges of the 21st Century Global Economy.

  • Alexander the Great

    Comparing Amtrak to “Soviet-style rail system” is wrong on so many levels…What does Mr. Mica (and other ignorant folks) know about Soviet Union’s railways? 
     
    Mr. Mica is yet to learn that Soviet Union has always had a very efficient, reliable, and safe railroad system, which is not even worth comparing to completely inadequate Amtrak infrastructure; and by the 1950’s most of the vast Soviet railway system was electrified (except for remote locations). Single-tracking with siding had also been eliminated by mid-20th century; double, triple, quadruple tracking were standard for most of Soviet railways.
     
    Those who keep comparing Amtrak to “Soviet style” railways should educate themselves and learn some facts about railway systems in other countries before publicly stating some complete nonsense. What Mr. Mica perhaps meant is that current Amtrak railroad network is as bad as third-world countries, however Soviet Union is not an appropriate example, as you can clearly see.
     
    The bottom line: Amtrak is not even close to the efficiency and integration that Soviet Union had to offer in regards to railways; and needless to say, modern-day Russia has one of the best, extensive, and efficient systems in the world.

  • Anonymous

    He is correct about the need for HSP in the northeast corridor. I think it should be a pilot for the nation here, where HSP is most needed. Mica developed a plan (you can find it online) that praises what other countries have done with HSP and how much more efficient it is. His examples include the Paris-London line and the Tokyo-Yokohama corridor. Always on time, large carrying capacity, privatized and profitable. Those are the kinds of rail companies we need here. If Acela had to compete with other rail companies, we would have a horse race for HSP. Trying to bring HSP to regions with no history of it (Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio) will always work as a Republican target for wastefulness. Make the Northeast work better, and other regions will clamor for HSP. 

    BTW, Mica’s plans calls for all efficiencies in the system within ten years, whereas Obama’s Northeast Corridor plan is a 30-year process, and with the Congresses we’ve been electing recently, expect that to take much much much longer and be relegated to these endless budget fights and uncertainty. 

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