The Obama Administration launched its High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program with the massive stimulus in 2009. In an attempt to reach the President's unnecessary and unrealistic goal of providing 80% of Americans with access to high-speed rail, the Administration spread the $8 billion in stimulus money too thin over too many projects. Indeed, of that initial $8 billion, Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, none of which were truly high-speed rail projects. The governors of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida all rejected major projects that would not have resulted in high-speed service.
Numerous concerns have been raised regarding the management of the program by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In March 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, regarding the project selection process by FRA. The report highlighted concerns with transparency, specifically that GAO could not verify whether FRA applied its final selection criteria because the documented rationales for selecting projects were typically vague. By not establishing this record, FRA has raised significant skepticism about the overall fairness of decisions.
Similarly, on March 28, 2012, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General released a report on the FRA’s HSIPR Program concluding that FRA’s guidance did not provide a sufficient level of detail to minimize bias and ensure the accuracy of project viability assessments. In sum, the DOT IG found that the “lack of clear, detailed standards in FRA’s HSIPR forecasting guidance allows for viability analyses of widely varying quality. Analyses of varying quality, in turn, make it difficult for FRA to be sure that it allocates HSIPR funds to the most effective projects.”
Now that nearly all of the stimulus funding has been obligated, the United States will still have no true high-speed rail to show for it. While the HSIPR Program has received over $10 billion in total federal funding to date, the only project other than the Northeast Corridor with the potential to be truly high-speed is in California. The state has received almost $4 billion in HSIPR funding, yet the cost estimate of construction for the full build out of high-speed rail has more than doubled from $43 billion to $91.4 billion and it will take 13 years longer than originally planned. This project appears to be in disarray. Click here for more information regarding the Committee's oversight of the California project.
Recognizing the Administration’s misguided approach in these austere times, Congress has withheld appropriations for the HSIPR Program in fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The Committee is intent on ensuring that any future efforts to bring high-speed rail to the United States focus on areas where it can succeed with significant private sector participation, particularly the Northeast Corridor (NEC).
The Northeast Corridor
The NEC, from Washington, DC through New York and to Boston, is the one region of the United States where high-speed rail makes the most sense and would have the most national benefit. The heavily congested corridor is densely populated and has well-established transit connections. Aviation congestion in the New York region's airspace causes delays throughout the entire network, and an effective high-speed rail route would improve air travel as well as highway transportation. Unfortunately, the Administration's failed high-speed rail plan squandered billions of dollars, and the NEC wasn't even designated a high-speed rail corridor by the Administration until March 2011.
Amtrak's current service in the NEC averages only 83 mph, and the heavily subsidized passenger rail provider has actually seen ridership in this valuable transportation corridor diminish since 1988 (see chart). For information on Amtrak's history of mismanagement and waste of the immense potential of the Northeast Corridor, see the Committee's report entitled "Sitting on Our Assets: The Federal Government’s Misuse of Taxpayer-Owned Assets."
"The Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act”
On June 15, 2011, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Mica and Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Shuster outlined a plan to bring private sector competition to high-speed and intercity passenger rail service across the country, including the NEC.
The Mica/Shuster proposal, the “Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act,” will also open intercity passenger rail service across to nation to competition in order to attract private sector participation and investment, lower costs for taxpayers, and improve service.
After 40 years of costly and wasteful Soviet-style operations under Amtrak, it is time to create competition in U.S. passenger rail.
Click here for more information about the “Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act.”
Click here for a section by section summary of the “Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act.”
Click here for draft legislative text.
Click here for video of the June 15, 2011 roll out of the “Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act.”
As the Committee continues to develop the “Competition for Intercity Passenger Rail in America Act," interested parties should feel free to contact the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials at (202) 226-0727 with any legislative suggestions for consideration in the final bill.
More information regarding the need for true high-speed rail in the United States:
Information on the 2008 law that includes the Mica proposal to invite private sector participation and help bring true high-speed passenger rail service to the United States: