Washington, DC – The following are the opening statements of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) from this morning’s Congressional hearing in New York City on developing high-speed passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor.
Chairman Mica’s Statement
This hearing is being conducted as a follow-up to a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Congressional report produced last year entitled, “Sitting on Our Assets: The Federal Government’s Misuse of Taxpayer-Owned Assets.”
One of the most valuable and potentially productive federal assets in the United States is the Northeast Rail Corridor. This 437-mile stretch of incredibly valuable real estate covers the distance between Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, and Boston, Massachusetts.
Halfway up the corridor, here in New York City, is America’s business and financial center. This is also our nation’s most congested and densely populated area. Yet New York City is not served by true high-speed rail – and true high-speed rail may not be realized here for more than three decades.
Unfortunately, this valuable national transportation asset, and the development of true high-speed passenger rail on the Northeast Corridor, has been largely ignored.
In January of last year, President Obama said, “There’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America.” While high-speed trains in Europe travel at 186 miles per hour, Amtrak’s Acela chugs along at an average speed between D.C. and New York of 83 miles per hour – a snail’s pace by comparison.
Amtrak’s current plan to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor would require $117 billion, and would not be completed until the year 2040. This slow-speed schedule for bringing true high-speed rail service to the Northeast Corridor will never allow President Obama to meet his goal announced in Tuesday’s State of the Union address that, “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”
Just do the math.
It is my hope that this timetable can be dramatically improved. Entering into public-private partnerships to assist in financing high-speed rail development on the corridor will get it built much faster and bring down costs.
Unfortunately, one of our nation’s most valuable assets, including some of the most prime real estate in the world, has been left behind. Instead of providing a visionary transportation link in America’s most crowded corridor, we continue to support an antiquated and unproductive corridor that struggles to meet the needs of its many users.
Finally, why should Members of Congress from more than a dozen states here today care about the Northeast Corridor? Let me state some of those reasons:
The Northeast Corridor is an incredibly valuable asset.
As stewards of these assets, we have an obligation to all federal taxpayers and the citizens of these great cities.
This is our nation’s most congested corridor, on land and in the air.
70% of our chronically delayed flights begin in New York airspace.
Amtrak will never be capable of developing this corridor to its true high-speed potential. The task is complex and large-scale, and can only be addressed with the help of private sector expertise and funding.
Bringing true high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor will benefit the entire nation.
The large turnout today by Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and New York area Members is a testament to the high level of interest and commitment to new and innovative transportation solutions.
Thank you for attending this hearing. I thank the witnesses in advance, and look forward to your testimony. I particularly want to thank Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Rendell for their long-term support on this project.
Chairman Shuster’s Statement
Thank you to New York City for hosting us here today at historic Grand Central Station and to Chairman Mica for holding this important hearing today on true high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and the importance of competition and private sector investment. It is also my pleasure to welcome our distinguished witnesses today, included Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Rendell.
It is truly an exciting time to be on the House Transportation Committee and to be the Chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. It is particularly exciting because our nation is finally moving ahead in the areas of intercity passenger rail, and specifically high-speed rail.
High-speed rail is essential to our nation’s transportation future and our best hope for easing crowding on our congested highways and airspace. There is simply no better way to move large numbers of people from city-center to city-center than on high-speed rail.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, upgrades to the Keystone Corridor to speeds of 110 mph have resulted in significantly higher ridership that only continues to grow. Higher speeds would only make this service more attractive. Now when I travel to Philadelphia, I refuse to drive and the Keystone Corridor train is my preferred method of transportation.
Unfortunately, the United States is far behind the international curve on high-speed rail. Our friends in Europe have been at work for decades on an impressive high-speed rail network. Japan is working on a new high-speed train that will carry passengers at up to 310 miles per hour between Osaka and Tokyo, augmenting their existing bullet trains. And China is spending nearly $300 billion to develop 8,000 miles of new high-speed track by 2020. That’s enough rail to go from here to Los Angeles – three times over.
For nearly 100 years, America was the unquestioned global leader in passenger rail and trains were the primary, and in many cases only, mode of transportation available for medium and long distance travel. But the advent of commercial aviation and the interstate highway system changed the equation. In the face of this stiff competition, our nation’s passenger rail system faded into disuse and disrepair.
However, today things are beginning to change. The population concentration in our urban areas is increasing, in particular on the eastern seaboard and the Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC and New York City. In 2006, the Unites States population reached 300 million people. And by 2039 we are expected to break the 400 million mark.
Congestion costs continue to rise. Crippling congestion and poor roads cost businesses and commuters almost $115 billion a year in wasted time and fuel – that is up from $24 billion in 1982 (adjusted for inflation). And Americans spend more than 4 billion hours per year stuck in traffic. It is clear the time for investment in high-speed rail and improvements to our intercity passenger rail system is now.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on key corridors, scarce federal dollars have been spread too thin among too many different projects, leading to incremental progress that could slow our already delayed entrance into high-speed rail. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was the failure to invest in the Northeast Corridor, which, for the most part was kept out of the selection process. Failing to invest in the critical Northeast Corridor will ensure continued congestion in our nation’s most densely populated region and on the corridor that presents the best opportunity for true high-speed rail and profitable service.
Most importantly, we must focus on how we can bring private sector investment to this critical corridor by introducing competition and incentives for investment. In this constrained budget environment, it is more important than ever for us to leverage private sector funds so we can continue to move forward in the area of high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail
In the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008, I was proud to author a provision regarding competition. My provision, Section 214, created a pilot program to allow two Amtrak intercity routes to be opened up to private sector competition for up to five years. Unfortunately, my provision has thus far been ignored by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and this competition has yet to take place.
I am particularly interested to hear from our witnesses today regarding their thoughts and interest in partnering to help finance true high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor and how high-speed rail development can bring economic development.
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