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Mica Retreats On Privatizing Amtrak Congressman John Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the of House transportation committee, formally backed off his earlier proposal to privatize HSR from Washington to Boston. He says Amtrak can keep the line, adding that “any further money for high- speed rail needs to solely come to the North- east corridor.” The chairman was joined by two Manhattan Democrats (Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler) as he promised to direct any rejected HSR money to the NEC. “While I want to give California every

chance and opportunity to be successful,” said the chairman at an HSR conference in New York City, “I think we have to redirect our efforts to having at least one success in high-speed rail in the nation,” and that ef- fort should be in America’s most densely populated corridor. Mica did add that though he is willing to

make Amtrak a “full partner” in bringing 220-m.p.h. service to the D.C./Boston corri- dor, he still thinks Amtrak’s $117 billion HSR proposal is too expensive and takes too much time to complete. Congress also has abandoned the idea — reported previously in this space — to zap out support for state-supported Amtrak trains, a partnership that has grown in pop- ularity over the years.

Meanwhile, On the Left Coast As mentioned above, the omnibus surface transportation bill signed by the President excludes all funding for HSR. Readers who follow this column and the turns, twists and contortions of Capitol Hill’s legislative sausage factory know that the halls of Washington maneuvering are capable of ex- tracting many ways to skin the proverbial cat. This is not necessarily the last word on HSR. But some fear the worst. Read on.

Passenger Rail Armageddon Failure of the “supercommittee” on Capitol Hill to come up with a deficit reduction plan means in 2013, there will be 55 per cent au- tomatic spending cuts across the board in most discretionary domestic spending. That could mean a 9.3 per cent slash in Amtrak funding in Fiscal Year 2013. This “hatchet scenario,” says NARP, “has the potential to kill intercity passenger trains.” Consider al- so that the cuts may be even deeper in order to protect the Pentagon from its own sepa- rate 55 per cent share of the “hatchet” se- quester the supercommittee has left behind.

In California California understands the Washington tru- ism about the unpredictability of the legisla- tive sausage factory. The state is broke and the projected tab for its desired HSR from San Francisco to Los Angeles (and other cities, including some on other branches of the planned system) has more than doubled since the voters approved of ballot initiative in November 2008. Thus, California has made a bid to benefit from other states that have turned back federal HSR funding. The feds have granted nearly $1 billion (includ- ing $214 million of a $2.4 billion total spurned by Florida) to the California High- Speed Rail Authority. The first phase of the project is a 130-mile segment in the central part of the state en- compassing what is largely rural country- side — farm country from Bakersfield to just south of Chowchilla. The tab for that is

slightly above $6 billion. That is to be fi- nanced by $2.6 billion from the $9 billion in the ’08 bond issue and $3.5 billion in stimu- lus from the feds. It strikes some as odd that the very first

leg of this huge infrastructure undertaking would be built in the most lightly populated part of the stretch between L.A. and San Francisco. But the reason given for that is that the light density of population of that sector makes it more likely that some con- struction will get under way soon (it could begin next year) in order to meet the dead- line for federal money . Critics suggest selection of that leg is a

cynical ploy to make the ultimate completion of the line as inevitable — because future legislatures would eschew the political bur- den of leaving a little-used $6 billion “train to nowhere.” Thus, it would be argued, we might as well finish the whole thing and more easily resist fiscal and political obsta- cles of running the tracks into the major met- ropolitan areas where the people are, includ- ing more potential naysayers whose objections would carry less political weight.

Cheerleaders in High Places California’s HSR project has the enthusias- tic support of its state government. Gover- nor Jerry Brown says the state will have a broad need for the system in the long term, besides which he adds as huge as the tab for the rail project appears to be, it is still cheaper than the highway and commercial aviation expenditures that would otherwise be required. All of this happens as the Cali- fornia High Speed Rail Authority has laid out a revised business plan to complete the entire project at a cost of $98 billion which (as mentioned above) is more than twice the earlier estimates. The newly adopted guide- line also lowers ridership figures and adds an extra nine years to build the S.F.-L.A. segment in phases. Ironically, on the day the California Transportation commission was issuing its own statement on the Rail Authority’s new business plan, Commission Chairman Dario Frommer could not make it to the meeting because, as he explained, “my flight was canceled due to fog at Burbank Airport. If California already had high-speed rail built,” the chairman added, “I could have simply jumped on the train.” “California can’t afford to not build high-

speed rail,” Frommer added. Noting that un- der the new plan, Californians would pay $60 to $80 for a one-way ticket from Los An- geles to San Francisco, the chairman labeled that “a bargain compared to the $200 one- way ticket many of us are paying to fly the same route. California can’t afford to not build high-speed rail,” Frommer concluded.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Line Following the STB and the FRA, yet anoth- er federal agency has green-lighted the HSR project between Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas. This time it’s the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has authorized the DesertXpress to build the line on public land administered by BLM. (The fact that the feds own huge tracts of land through the western states of the continental U.S. has for decades been a source of no small amount or irritation on the part of the locals in the region. But I digress.) The trains would operate initially at 150 m.p.h. between the two cities. A future link


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