I don't have a whole lot of time to go over this today, as I'm going to be on the Coast Starlight headed back to Monterey from a quick SoCal trip. But it's important to discuss the new High Speed Rail funding proposal that Senator John Kerry and Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter are proposing in the US Senate. It's known as the High Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 and is numbered S.3700 (full text not yet available from THOMAS) (UPDATE: see an extensive summary of the bill's provisions here (h/t to Peter in the comments) and has a number of co-sponsors, including Senate heavyweights Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, and Charles Schumer. According to Kerry's office:
Specifically, the High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 provides $8 billion over a six-year period for tax-exempt bonds which finance high-speed rail projects which reach a speed of at least 110 miles per hour It creates a new category of tax-credit bonds – qualified rail bonds. There are two types of qualified rail bonds: super high-speed intercity rail facility bond and rail infrastructure bond. Super high-speed rail intercity facility bonds will encourage the development of true high-speed rail. The legislation provides $10 billion for these bonds over a ten-year period. This would help finance the California proposed corridor and make needed improvements to the Northeast corridor. The legislation provides $5.4 billion over a six-year period for rail infrastructure bonds.
The obvious question this raises is will this be enough? The entire bill looks to be around $23.4 billion, which would be enough to help finish the first phase from SF-LA-Anaheim. Obviously we're not getting all of that, and being a Congressional bill other states and other Senators are going to want a piece of the pie - note that most of the co-sponsors come from the Northeast Corridor. But our project IS the farthest along, and is the best positioned to make use of this funding. Other states have a lot more ground to cover to be able to make use of these bonds.
In fact, my only criticism of this proposal - pending the actual bill details - is that the amount is not ambitious enough. $50 billion seems like a better funding level - instead of setting states and Senators against each other, $50 billion would help substantially seed a number of HSR projects around the country and build a true national system. This recession is deepening and significant stimulus is necessary to pull us out of it. Now's the time to be ambitious, Senator Kerry. Think big, think bold. This bill is an excellent start, but let's use the opportunity to build a truly national high speed rail project.