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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.

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