The New York Observer is announcing that the U.S. DOT will hold an event Monday to announce the solicitation of bids for a new, privately-financed high-speed train between New York and the capital.
This initiative is the end-game of Representative John Mica’s plan to provide such an advance service, which would presumably connect the cities in two hours or less. We discussed Mr. Mica briefly a few months ago, but the main point to be remembered about the Congressman is that he is virulently anti-government and also virulently pro-transit and high-speed rail. Which means that a privately-run high-speed rail system is his idea of progress.
The DOT is required to introduce this Request for Proposals because Mr. Mica included the item in the Amtrak bill several months ago, but as the Observer article points out, today’s economy is such that it seems unlikely a private corporation would be willing to take on the project. That said, you never know.
Representative Jerry Nadler is quoted in the article with the following comment:
“I oppose privatizing the Northeast Corridor. While I appreciate and support efforts to expand high-speed rail service in this country, it remains to be seen whether or not this RFP will achieve that goal. The only thing that Congress authorized is the submission of proposals. There will be a rigorous review process, and Congress will have to take subsequent action to move ahead should any of the proposals be worthy. In the meantime, Congress should continue to increase investment in Amtrak, which has been chronically under funded and faces a multi-billion dollar backlog on the Northeast Corridor alone. I fully expect the incoming Democratic Congress and Administration to increase funding for Amtrak as part of a rational transportation policy and an economic stimulus package for infrastructure.”
What he says makes a lot of sense – if a private company returns a reasonable and well thought-out plan, Congress should indeed consider whether to sponsor the construction of such a project in private hands. There is little doubt that there is an interest and a well-demonstrated need for faster trains along the Northeast Corridor, amongst other lines throughout the nation.
Mr. Nadler’s opposition to privatization of the Corridor – whether that’s on the table here is unclear – also makes sense. The 1993 privatization of British Rail was a well-known disaster, leading to huge problems in transportation in the United Kingdom. Far more successful European high-speed rail programs – in France, Germany, and Spain – have been implemented by fully government-owned and managed systems (though the European Union’s new rules have changed that a bit in recent years). There’s no reason to think that a government run high-speed rail system of similar magnitude and speed as Mr. Mica has suggested would not be possible.
We’ll keep our eyes peeled for news before Monday’s announcement!