Senate Saves a Sliver For High-Speed Rail

President Obama had sought $8 billion for high-speed rail in 2012. The House-passed budget had exactly zero. The Senate bill approved by the Transportation subcommittee Tuesday followed suit. But the full Appropriations Committee yesterday put $100 million back into next year’s budget for the president’s signature transportation initiative.

Senator Dick Durbin, co-chair of the High-Speed Rail Caucus, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ride a high-speed train in China. Photo from Reid's ## photostream

That’s still starvation wages for the program, but it’s at least a placeholder that keeps it limping along. The move was spearheaded by four Democratic senators — Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — who introduced the successful amendment to reallocate some funds earmarked for highway and transit projects to high-speed rail.

“I offered this amendment because we can’t turn our backs on a project that will invest in the future and put Californians back to work,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Every dollar we spend on rail produces $3 in economic output,” added Senator Durbin, a founding member of the Bi-Cameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. “Congress has maintained a commitment to high speed and intercity rail for over a decade. This amendment will continue that commitment.”

Highway funding in the Senate bill stays at FY2011 levels, but the chamber added another $358 million for the New Starts program for transit capital investments, previously funded at $8.3 billion. The House budget would reduce New Starts to $5.3 billion.

TIGER got a little bump too, with the Senate raising the allocation from $527 million to $550 million. Of that, $120 million is reserved for rural communities. The third round of TIGER grant applications is currently underway.

The Senate-passed budget keeps $90 million for the tri-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities (down from $100 million in 2011), a victory for livability advocates and anyone who prefers federal collaboration and efficiency over stovepipes and silos.

The bill also includes $25 million for energy efficiency improvements for transit systems to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And the Washington metro system, always threatened with federal cuts, comes away with $150 million for capital investments, with a focus on safety.

These numbers are by no means final. They vary widely from the FY2012 budget the House passed two weeks ago. At some point, the two chambers will have to find a compromise between two significantly different funding proposals, but for now, they’re just trying to figure out an extension (or “continuing resolution”) of the current year’s budget in order to keep government programs funded past September 30. Last night’s vote in the House failed dramatically, with both Democrats and Tea Party Republican dissenting.

Both chambers are supposed to be on recess next week, but leadership might require members to stay in Washington, at least through the weekend, to hammer out a deal if they can’t work one out by the end of the this week. Congress doesn’t normally vote on Fridays, either, so many lawmakers are  hoping for progress today so they can return to their districts.


13 thoughts on Senate Saves a Sliver For High-Speed Rail

  1. “That’s still starvation wages for the program, but it’s at least a placeholder that keeps it limping along.”

    From $8 billion to 1/80th of that, $100 million?  I nominate that for wimpiest sentence of 2011, as well as sentence most representing impoverished attitudes among LA transportation advocates.

  2. Sorry – I thought Damien wrote that.  I revise my nomination of the “starvation wages” sentence as most representing impoverished attitudes among LA transportation advocates – I would like to instead recommend that it be considered for most representing why we get our asses kicked in DC.

  3. Call California Governor Jerry Brown at (916) 445-2841
    and Calfiornia Tresurer Bill Lockyer at (916) 653-2995 to demand that they end
    the boondoggle now, and Lockyer not sell bonds for this project. 


    Mother Jones – the ultra liberal, leftist, greenist,
    periodical in the World said on 8/11/2011 in an article titled “California’s
    HSR Boondoggle – Now More Boondoggly” that the California High Speed boondoggle
    should be ended, now, for several reasons, mostly that construction costs have
    already ballooned, likely to exceed $100,000,000,000,000.00 ($100 billion) in
    2011-year dollars.  Mother Jones
    said:   “Look, I’m sorry HSR lovers. I love me some HSR too,
    but this project is just a fantastic boondoggle. It didn’t even make sense with
    the original cost estimates, and it’s now plain that it’s going to cost three
    or four times more than that. What’s more, the ridership estimates are still
    fantasies and it won’t be able to compete with air travel without large,
    permanent subsidies. This is just too much money to spend on something this
    dumb. It’s the kind of thing that could set back HSR for decades. Sacramento
    needs to pull the plug on this, and they need to pull it now. We have way
    better uses for this dough.” Article here:

  4. On
    June 15, 2011, the United State House of Representatives Budget Committee
    awarded the coveted “Budget Boondoggle of the Year Award” to California’s
    “Train to Nowhere” due to the huge multi-billion dollar cost, inadequate
    ridership projections, insufficient funding, requirements for operating
    subsidies, fiscal infeasibility, inability to find any private investors or
    federal funding, the fact that no high speed rail lines
    in the world make a profit and require ongoing operating subsidieis, that the
    Central Valley segment in California will be non-operational with no trains,
    electrification for $6.9 billion.   Way to go California
    taxpayers!  Really, you can’t make up this kind of crap.  Sad but
    true.  See Award here:

  5. Frankly this is a total waste of money.  Yes we need jobs but this will not take care of our immediate problem.  This is just another payback to the unions.  The money will never be enough to finish this project.  Again we the taxpayers will be on the hook to complete it.  When will the liberal/democrats stop spending our money.  California and Washington are one and the same.  Unions and politics  are killing our future.

  6. im a big railbuff.  i love the concept of high speed trains.  i rode on the japanese shinkansen system and its amazing. 

    but $100million will NOT bring you any closer to high speed rial.  there are two problems with the figure is that we need to buy back a lot of land through eminent domain plus union contracts.  the last time i checked these way a crazy balking figure .  i didnt even get started on how to pay the workers or the materials yet.

  7. They Sliver vary widely beginning the funds the House passed two weeks
    ago. At some point, the two chambers will have to find a cooperation between
    two significantly different funding proposals, excluding for now, they’re just irritating
    to figure out an extension.

  8. Thank you for posting this article. I also
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