As China moves forward with launching the world’s longest single high speed rail, back here in the good ole USA bullet trains are still stuck at the station. A possible solution may exist though, as U.S. House Representatives John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Material Committee, have submitted their plan for the development of a high speed rail network in the Northeast Corridor that would remove Amtrak from the potential project. Congressman Mica was especially harsh in his language describing Amtrak, saying the company “repeatedly bungled development,” and that the business had decades of “wasteful Soviet-style operations . . . ”
We recently reported on Amtrak’s plan to develop a 220 mph train system that would run from Washington, D.C. to Boston, and that the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded the company $450 million for minor upgrades in the region. The Congressmen, however, say their plan to open competitive bidding to the private sector would drastically reduce the supposed $117 billion cost of Amtrak’s plan by taking the Northeast Corridor away from Amtrak completely in order to make a separate business unit that would be contracted with the Department of Transportation for almost 100 years.
Under the Mica/Shuster proposal all of the property, trains, and other assets currently under the Northeast Corridor plan would be transferred to the Department of Transportation. The project would then be managed by a five member executive committee. This committee would have the power to select private investors, and be tasked with using federal funds at the lowest level possible. As currently written, the plan dictates that the committee be comprised of the following persons: the Secretary of Transportation (currently Ray LaHood, appointed by the President Obama), one person representing states in the Northeast Corridor, two people selected by the Senate Majority Leader (currently Harry Reid) and Speaker of the House (currently John Boehner), and one industry expert.
According to the Republican Congressmen, this plan would create a high speed rail system in ten years or less, encourage freight companies to negotiate rates for access to the reclaimed tracks, require states to keep existing services and routes, promote ridership growth, and provide hiring preferences to any displaced Amtrak employees. A summary of the proposal is available for download [PDF] as is the legislative draft [PDF].
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