President Barack Obama will ask Congress next week to approve a six-year, $53 billion program for construction of a national high-speed and intercity rail network, Vice President Joe Biden said.
“There are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation — one of which is infrastructure,” Biden said in a speech today at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Obama submits his fiscal 2012 budget to Congress on Feb. 14.
Under the budget proposal, about $8 billion would be spent in the first year to develop or improve interconnected rail corridors that Biden said would form the backbone of a national high-speed rail system.
Such corridors would be divided into three categories: “core express” for trains achieving speeds of between 125 and 250 miles per hour or more; “regional” lines for trains traveling between 90 to 125 miles per hour and “emerging” rail lines for passenger trains traveling as much as 90 miles per hour.
In his State of the Union address last month, Obama set a goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years. Some high-speed routes in California and the Midwest are already under way, he said.
The administration’s goal is to connect large metropolitan communities and economies with a transportation alternative to ease congestion on roads and at airports while reducing pollution.
Biden’s remarks, released in advance by the White House, didn’t spell out how the six-year program would be financed, or what other federal programs may be reduced to offset costs.
Republicans in Congress are unlikely to provide the funding or endorse the administration’s national vision.
“To spend the money across the country in dribs and drabs is not going to do it,” U.S. Representative Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the railroad subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a phone interview.
“I’m not willing to spend money unless we know it is going to be targeted on the one corridor where it could seriously have an impact, and that’s the Northeast Corridor.”
Conservative leaders in Congress have called for eliminating the high-speed rail program altogether and Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have previously pushed to cut its funding.
The vice president cited success in high-speed rail programs in advocating for its expansion. He said passengers traveling from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor now connect to high-speed Acela service to Boston, New York City and Washington.
Since track improvements raised speeds between Harrisburg and Philadelphia to 110 mph in 2006, the Keystone Corridor has seen rail ridership increase by 57 percent, he said.
“With rail ridership reaching all-time highs in many areas of the country during 2010, these investments will ensure that more Americans have the option of taking a train to reach their destination,” said Biden, who as a senator often took Amtrak, the government-owned rail passenger service, to his home in Delaware.
The six-year, $53 billion request comes on top of a $10.5 billion down payment toward a high-speed rail system, $8 billion of which was funded through the stimulus program.
GE Transportation President and Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Simonelli, whose company is the leading manufacturer of diesel-electric locomotives, welcomed Biden’s announcement.
“The investment could help GE Transportation sustain or create high-tech manufacturing jobs in the U.S. as we build the next generation of higher-speed passenger locomotives and high- speed trains serving America’s rail traveling public,” Simonelli said in an e-mailed statement. GE Transportation is headquartered in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Biden also said the administration will consolidate the Transportation Department’s rail loan and grant programs for cities and states into two accounts.
The first $4 billion account would help fund network development, building new infrastructure, stations and equipment. A second account, also funded at $4 billion, would be earmarked for system preservation and renewal, including maintenance and repair on Amtrak and other publicly-owned assets.
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