Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Kicking and Screaming into the 21st Century

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

From the Overhead Wire comes this story about high speed rail advocacy from Rep. John Mica, R-FL:

The development of a high-speed rail network in the Northeastern U.S. should be the first step toward expanding and improving the nation's infrastructure, U.S. Rep. John L. Mica said at a conference Tuesday.

Speaking at the Dow Jones Infrastructure Summit, Mica, R-Fla., said the development of a high-speed rail network would transform the heavily traveled New York-to-Washington corridor and begin to ease the burden on congested highways.

The high speed rail initiative is a cornerstone of legislation co-sponsored by Mica, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act would authorize more than $14.4 billion in funding for Amtrak, state passenger grants and high-speed rail over the next five years. The Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act seeks to provide $24 billion in federal funds to build the high-speed network.

It's really, really, REALLY good to see Republicans like Mica stepping up on high speed rail. Earlier in the month we saw two Democratic Senators forcefully speak up for HSR and the Passenger Rail Investment Act, so it's good to see Republicans getting in on the act. Of course, Mica wasn't done:

In response to a suggestion that the Air Transport Association - a trade group for the U.S. airline industry - would not support such a proposal, Mica underlined the urgent need to update the rail system.

"We'll drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century," he said.

Right on. It is gratifying to see more politicians realizing that the airline industry is not in a position - and should not be in a position - to block HSR projects. This isn't early 1990s Texas. The airlines, along with politicians and the media, need to be dragged into the 21st century, whether they kick and scream or not.

The more politicians who speak up like this, the more the media will come to realize that HSR's time has come. Hopefully that might mean less ridiculous questions about ridership and funding projections, and more of a focus on our massive infrastructure, energy, and environmental needs. If even Republicans from Florida understand the need for HSR, well, there's hope for this country after all.


Brandon in California said...

The California revised 08-09 budget came out today. The winner, California High Speed Rail!

Governor Schwarzenegger allocated an additional $40+ million for the Authority. Originally, it was a paltry $2 or so million... not including funding from outside sources.

That tells me Schwarzenegger is soldly behind the project.

Rafael said...

Note that Rep. Mica's bill also calls for the North-East Corridor to be opened up to private operators, something Amtrak supports see as a subterfuge to kill off the taxpayer-supported service.

The Acela Express is the nearest thing the US has to HSR right now and is profitable. Ridership is up 25% since last year, vs. 11% for Amtrak as a whole.

@ bmfarley -

I hope the governor will campaign for HSR this fall, but for now all he's done is not kill this popular project.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I saw that late last night, and yes, that's exactly what it says. It restores the cut in the CHSRA budget from the 07-08 budget.

Unfortunately it comes in the same budget that cuts $400 million in local public transit funds, which is an act of madness given the current movement of commuters to those systems. I just posted something over at Calitics about this cut.

From what I'm seeing around state politics Arnold's budget may be DOA. The real fight will be between the Republicans and Democrats in the legislature, and it may go all the way to November.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Yeah, that's the problem with Mica's bill - as Rafael notes it would open the Acela service up to private competition, which would be bad.

The problem is that Amtrak has a bad public reputation, even though it's mostly undeserved or unfair. Acela's success is getting wider attention, but I hope it's not too late to save it - and that Democrats realize they don't need to give in to that kind of demand, especially when they are going to have a much bigger majority in Congress next year, and perhaps a Democratic president as well.

Anonymous said...

On the national front, I'm sure we all know that Florida, the bell weather state in the east pushing for HSR, actually passed a bond measure a few years ago,which was repealed later when the voters found out what a fraud it really was

Robert Cruickshank said...

Got any evidence to back up the "fraud" charge, anon? If not, don't make the charge. California's plan is clear and vetted. It's not just a good idea but a necessary idea - without HSR the state is going to grind to a halt.

Rafael said...

Another day, another Republican convert. Seems to me more and more of them are rediscovering passenger rail as a way to help voters get a handle on soaring gas bills.

The real battle will be about privatizing the NEC in the context of getting a brand-new true HSR link built between D.C. and NYC.

Note that CHSRA has said that the operation of the California system will be open to tender.