The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program

Rail yards in Washington

» The Obama Administration hopes to invest almost $40 billion in new and improved passenger rail infrastructure over the next five years. Good luck getting that through Congress.

It’s an annual spectacle. The President releases his budget. The budget proposes a huge expansion in spending on surface transportation, particularly in high-speed rail. Administration figures testify on Capitol Hill, hoping to raise the specter of infrastructure failure if nothing is done. The Congress responds lackadaisically, with Democrats arguing that something should be done and Republicans doing everything they can to prevent a cent more from being spent, and ultimately no one agrees to much of anything other than a repetition of the past year’s mediocre investments.

Will things be different this year?

The question is particularly relevant because the U.S. Government’s rail investment program — its authorization for allocating funds to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will expire this year. Legislation supporting the FRA, as

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In France, a Truly Low-Cost High-Speed Rail Option

Ouigo

» To convince even more passengers to take the train, the SNCF national rail carrier plans to offer very cheap tickets.

France’s SNCF national rail service has, since the introduction of the TGV in 1981, held to the belief that fast trains should not be segregated to serve only higher-paying passengers. As a result, fast trains have replaced all slow-speed service on most long-distance travel throughout the country; passengers are able to take advantage of fare deals that allow them to journey between cities hundreds of miles apart at €25 or less, as long as they book in advance.

This dedication to opening up speedy trains to people across the income spectrum is unique compared to most other European and Asian countries. In Germany, for instance, train service between major cities is often available at two speeds — fast Intercity-express and slower InterCity, at very different prices. In the

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Revisiting Privatization in Intercity Rail

» Amtrak, as always, is being targeted for privatization by conservatives. But what approach leads to optimized public benefit?

Over the past few weeks, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has convened a series of hearings on the failures of Amtrak, America’s independent — but fully federally owned — national rail operator. Mr. Mica has used the meetings to wage an ideological crusade against the railway, arguing that it is too inefficient and expensive to continue receiving subsidies. Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has also advocated selling Amtrak.

Democrats have mostly shot back, arguing that privatizing the agency would result in a significant reduction in services provided and increase ticket costs.

Here is the confusing truth about Amtrak, however: The rail agency, fully government-owned, is in many ways already a privatized operation that receives federal subsidies. The organization does not seem to have the larger public’s interests in

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UK Ramps Up Intercity Rail Investments

East Midland Train

» Continued investment in the U.K.’s rail network comes at a considerable cost, but spending on existing services will complement planned high-speed rail route and further recent ridership increases.

Opposition to the United Kingdom’s second high-speed rail line, the £17 33 billion* connection between London and Birmingham called HS2, has been stewing for years. Critics of the line — much like opponents to rail programs in the U.S. — suggest that the project’s benefits do not justify its enormous cost (both monetarily and in terms of its effects on the rural landscapes trains will pass through) and that other investments on existing lines would be more effective.

While the U.K.’s Conservative-led coalition government, itself teetering and facing a double-dip recession, continues to maintain its support for the HS2 program, it has not limited its public investments just to that line, and this week it announced a £9.4 billion ($14.6 billion) scheme

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A Different Future with California High-Speed Rail

Map of the initial plans for service along the California High-Speed Rail route, showing the Madera-Bakersfield segment now approved for construction. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

» California’s Senate takes a courageous step in supporting the first construction stage of the state’s high-speed rail project. There is much more work to be done.

Last week, America’s future in high-speed rail took a modest step forward. On Thursday, California’s State Assembly approved by a 51 to 27 margin the release of $2.5 billion in state bonds for the construction of a 130-mile segment of 220-mph tracks through the Central Valley and the implementation of $2 billion in commuter rail improvements in the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions. On Friday, by a vote of 21 to 16, the State Senate expressed its agreement.* If all goes as planned, the project could be under construction by the beginning of next year. Tracks between Madera and Bakersfield could be ready for use by 2017, the first step towards what could be an eventual 2h40 journey time for trains traveling from

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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