Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What our Republican Congressman are up to in Washington regarding High-Speed Rail

This is something I would consider good news. Mica is a key player in the HSR adventures of Congress.  He's never been fond of the California project and has commented previously about wishing funds, if there are any, to go to the NorthEast Corridor, and therefore not to California.

The new California HSR business plan and it's implications have not escaped the Congressman.  There is already, among most House Republicans, an antipathy for this project because, if for no other reason, it is so closely identified with the President. "Obamarail" is what they call it. 

You understand that the interest in Amtrak, not to say hostility, from Mica is based on the fact that Amtrak gives lousy service and the government is pouring billions into this inadequate passenger rail service.  All the federal passenger rail funds that were not going to the California project have been headed to the many states where Amtrak is getting some upgrades.  The DOT is calling this high-speed rail, but it's nothing of the sort.  Anyhow, Mica doesn't like it.  The one exception is Amtrak's governance of the intended high-speed rail plans for the NEC. Mica is making an exception here and supports it.

As I've said numerous times here, I'm hopeful that the House Republicans will put a halt to any future funding for California HSR, essentially cutting the project down to a tree stump.  Even the Washington newspapers are raising their eyebrows at the new California business plan. The rest of Congress can no longer be oblivious or this impending disaster if the project continues.

However, the DOT has already obligated around $3 billion to the initiation of the California project in the Central Valley.  Barring a miracle, I don't see that being terminated.  For us, that's not good news. If they start digging holes in the Valley, HSR will be locked in, in California.   It suggests a permanent CHSRA, doing it's mismanaged stuff into eternity.  But, the rail authority will, most likely, run out of federal funding and the state bond money must be matched and therefore is also no longer accessible.  

So, their offices will remain open in Sacramento and they will devote their time and energy to taking junkets and lobbying for further funding, and writing late night info-mercials about how high-speed rail will restore our thinning hair and give us lustrous skin.

Congressman John Mica: Northeast Corridor Must Be the High-Speed Rail Priority, and Amtrak Can Keep It
By Kate Hinds  
November 8, 2011 – 6:58 pm

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Tuesday that nation’s best shot at a viable high-speed rail line is in the Boston-to-Washington corridor — and Amtrak can be a “full participant.”

“Any further money for high-speed rail needs to solely come to the Northeast Corridor,” said Congressman John Mica (R-FL), who promised to direct any rejected high-speed rail money to it.

Speaking at the U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference in Manhattan — and joined by two Democratic members of New York’s Congressional delegation — Mica said that while it was fine to develop high-speed rail elsewhere, the focus needs to be here.

“While I want to give California every chance and opportunity to be successful,” said Mica, “I think we have to redirect our efforts to having at least one success in high-speed rail in the nation. And that high-speed rail success needs to be here in the Northeast Corridor.”

He added: “If even one more penny gets sent back to Washington from any high-speed rail project…it needs to come back here.”

Several states have already rejected funding for high-speed rail — including Mica’s own, which sent back $2.4 billion to the federal government earlier this year. And last week California released projections saying its bullet train program would cost almost $100 billion –  far above earlier estimates — raising doubts about that project’s viability.

Mica also said Tuesday that he will also hold a hearing in December on the status of high-speed rail [in California] and review the programs already in place.

But the big news was the change in Mica’s attitude towards Amtrak — and his reversal of his earlier position on privatizing the Northeast Corridor. “I’m willing to have Amtrak be a full participant in this process,” he said Tuesday. “If there wasn’t an Amtrak…we’d create an Amtrak.”  Later in his talk he reiterated: “we can continue again having Amtrak be a partner in this, no one wants to push them overboard.”

That’s what Mica wanted to do several months ago, when he introduced legislation that aimed to take the Northeast Corridor away from Amtrak, deed it to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and privatize the development of high-speed rail. He said Tuesday he knew that proposal had been “controversial.”

In a press conference afterward, he was asked why he had a change of heart. “We did put a proposal out there that we knew would be tough for them to accept,” he said, referring his June legislation, “but that’s what you do sometimes in the legislative process to get them to the point where they’re willing to work with you to make something happen.”

Mica has criticized Amtrak’s 30-year timetable for building high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor as too slow. He thinks it can be done in ten to fifteen years.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said “there is widespread agreement that some sort of private capital can be brought into this, but I think — I hope — we have agreement that Amtrak has to be the main vehicle for it.”

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