Wednesday, December 07, 2011

LaHood, in testimony, defends HSR

Written by  Luther S. Miller, Senior Consulting Editor

Ignoring or perhaps outright challenging Congress’ decision to eliminate U.S. high speed rail funding, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday vigorously defended the concept in testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

LaHood’s comments also clashed with those of committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who maintains that, outside of perhaps the Northeast Corridor, HSR’s investment value and transport payoff is suspect.

The Obama Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program was launched in 2009, when it was allocated $8 billion in stimulus funds, with the goal of providing 80% of Americans with access to HSR within 25 years. Congress refused to fund it in FY 2011 or the current FY12.

Mica, citing numerous higher-speed rail (HrSR) projects often billed as “high speed rail,” including work between Chicago and St. Louis, says U.S. HSR efforts haven’t lived up their expectations of becoming truly "high speed." LaHood said more time is needed.

ray_lahood.jpgIn his testimony, LaHood (pictured at left) asserted that HSR is in demand from the U.S. public, with than 500 applicants requesting federal funds for HSR (and HrSR) projects since the initiative was launched in 2009. LaHood also stressed the impact on employment, saying, “This money is going to small businesses, going to big businesses, going to contractors, and going to American workers.”

Also testifying in favor of HSR was Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), who said, “Perhaps the most singular lesson learned is that it takes a federal partner to advance passenger train improvements.” Capon warned against focusing solely on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to the exclusion of a national rail passenger network, be it HSR, HrSR, conventional, or a mixture.