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2/10/2011



Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Obama's HSR proposal faces 'uphill battle,' NRC's Baker says


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On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the Obama Administration's proposal to invest $53 billion over the next six years to build a nationwide high-speed rail (HSR) network. House Republicans didn't hold back in their criticisms: Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-Fla.) compared the proposal to "giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio;" and Railroads Subcommittee Chair Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) called it "insanity."

And with other GOP leaders taking a laser-like focus on spending cuts, the question remains: How will the Obama Administration pay for its goal to give 80 percent of Americans access to HSR over the next 25 years?  

For context, HSRupdates asked National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association President Chuck Baker — who also serves on the American High Speed Rail Alliance Board — for his perspective on the proposal and the likelihood that Congress would muster enough votes to pass it.

"It's exciting [that] it's real money," he says. "The amount is enough to really start to build very meaningful, enhanced passenger-rail infrastructure."

Also noteworthy was the Administration's intention that HSR be integrated into the next six-year surface transportation reauthorization process.

However, the Administration didn’t answer "the huge question" of where the money will come from, says Baker. He expects Obama to be clearer on that issue early next week when the president sends his 2012 budget proposal to Congress.

"It's going to be an uphill battle," says Baker of Obama's HSR plan. "But the president, the vice president and secretary of transportation [Ray LaHood] have made it extremely clear that this is a signature issue for this Administration and they are very focused on it."

That Obama included HSR as a key topic of both his State of the Union addresses was significant.

"The next two years of the president's Administration we think will be about his [State of the Union] themes to 'out-educate, out-innovate and out-build' the rest of the world," Baker says. "And HSR is his signature issue in the 'build' plank of that platform. So, that will go a long way."

— Julie Sneider


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