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High-speed rail has long been discussed by U.S. passenger-rail proponents. But there are a few signs of late that talk might be shifting to walk. Last month, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 5644, bipartisan legislation that would establish a high-speed passenger-rail system between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Although Amtrak currently provides high-speed rail between the cities, the service runs at an average speed of 83 mph and “pales in comparison to speeds of successful systems in other countries,” said Mica in a prepared statement.
“High-speed rail is a vital component of transportation systems around the world, but in this country it’s been a fantasy,” said Mica, who serves as Republican leader of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Bringing high-speed rail to the United States, beginning with the Northeast Corridor, is long overdue. We can provide a fast and efficient transportation alternative that will take cars and trucks off our tremendously congested highways.”
The legislation calls for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to solicit proposals for engineering, finance and development plans for a system that would run between the cities in under two hours. In addition, the bill proposes that USDOT create a commission comprising state, local, federal, rail and rail labor stakeholders to evaluate the proposals and report recommendations to Congress. Congress then could evaluate the report and take action to begin work on the corridor.
H.R. 5644 will be followed by proposals for other high-speed corridors around the country, Mica said.
Also last month, financials advisors for the California High Speed Rail Authority met with private investors and authority board members to outline a funding strategy for the proposed 800-mile statewide high-speed rail system.
Advisors discussed the public-private partnership (PPP) approach that will be used to fund the system with more than 70 contractors, equipment vendors, operators and financiers. Advisors determined that funding the multi-billion-dollar system will require an upfront state funding commitment, as well as a significant investment of political capital to obtain other necessary funds. PPPs could bring vendor finance, private equity, design-build approaches and operational skills to the project, advisors said.
CHSRA expects to place a $9.95 billion bond measure on the November 2008 ballot to help fund the system. If approved, construction could begin by 2011 — but state funds will not be made available until CHSRA obtains matching funds from additional sources. The authority expects the federal government to fund between 25 percent and 33 percent of the project costs.