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Amtrak Capital Plan Includes Expansion, High-Speed Rail.

Amtrak recently released a 20-year capital investment plan that is designed to "modernize and expand the passenger rail system nationwide, accelerate plans for high-speed service in 11 federally designated corridors with the nation's busiest traffic and leverage billions more in non-federal investment."

The plan calls for $1.5 billion in annual federal funding for capital improvements with about 65 percent of the funds being spent outside the Northeast Corridor, including such busy corridors as Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Southeast. The release of the capital program comes as many opponents question Amtrak's ability to meet the Congressional mandate for self-sufficiency by FY2003.

Proponents of Amtrak, and high-speed rail in general, site numerous examples of the lack of support for passenger railroad over the past decade and beyond. Currently, intercity rail receives less than 1 percent of U.S. transportation spending and the United States ranks near the bottom globally on per-capita investment in rail. Since FY1998, intercity rail has received almost $2 billion less than has been authored, with no guarantee of future support. Since the inception of Amtrak, the federal government has invested $380 billion for highways and $160 billion for airports, while investing only $30 billion in Amtrak.

The debate on federal financing for high-speed raft comes on the heels of growing concern for overall transportation problems in the United States. Transportation congestion in the United States continues to worsen despite the billions of federal, state and local dollars spent annually on highway and airport infrastructure. The airline industry is struggling with overcrowding at airports, an air traffic control system that cannot handle today's demands and industry consolidation challenges. Across the country, commercial airline flight delays grew by 33 percent between 1995 and 2000. The nation's highway system is also experiencing gridlock with a 30 percent increase in driver delays over the past three years. An estimated 68 percent of metropolitan free-ways are considered congested, with the problem increasing each year.

Senators Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) recently introduced the High-Speed Rail Investment Act of 2001. The bill has strong sup. port from Senate leaders Trent Loft (R-Miss.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and has 47 other cosponsors. If passed, the bill would provide $12 billion over the next 10 years ($1.2 billion annually) for the issuance of tax credit bonds for investment in high speed rail initiatives including further Northeast Corridor development, new high speed-rail corridor development, and other high-speed capital improvements on existing mil lines.

The bill would require a 20 percent matching contribution from states, which could include privately funded contributions but could not be derived from federal funds including the Highway Trust Fund. Preference could be given to projects that have state matching contributions in excess of 20 percent. Other highlights include a $3 billion cap on investment in any one corridor and a $100 million annual cap on investment in non-designated high-speed corridors for the purpose of increasing speeds up to 90 miles per hour. Also, approval by the Secretary of Transportation is required for all projects to ensure feasibility, profitability, and safety improvements.

Supporters of the bill see this as an opportunity to work with Amtrak to develop a viable high-speed rail network throughout the United States. Amtrak believes that the High-Speed Rail Investment Act "can be a strong contribution to the long-term needs of passenger rail", but they also believe it is only part of the solution. They want to continue to work with Congress to secure additional appropriations to meet many of their needs that have not been addressed due to "years of underfunding." It is clear from the bipartisan support, including both Senate leaders, that the commitment to passing this legislation is strong. A committed supporter, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), said in his introductory statement of the bill, "high speed rail is not a partisan issue. It is not a regional issue. It is not an urban issue ... It is in our national interest to construct a national infrastructure that is truly intermodal."
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Author:Kocher, Daniel
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 12, 2001
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