Senate Panel Omits Spending for Obama’s High-Speed Rail Program

Senate Panel Eliminates Spending for Rail Plan
A passenger boards an Amtrak Acela train at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Photographer: David Brody/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama’s high-speed passenger rail initiative may be unfunded next year after a panel controlled by fellow Democrats approved legislation that contains no money for the program.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee that sets the Transportation Department’s budget approved the spending plan yesterday, said John Bray, a spokesman for the panel. The full committee is scheduled to consider the bill today.

The high-speed rail program is “a casualty of the cuts mandated in the debt-limit deal” Obama and congressional Republican leaders struck in August, Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat and a supporter of the president’s program, said in an e-mailed statement. Lautenberg is a member of the transportation subcommittee.

Obama sent a budget to Congress in February requesting $8 billion next year and $53 billion through 2018 to provide high-speed rail service to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years. Eliminating that funding may have the most impact on California’s plans to build a new high-speed rail system.

As part of a deal to raise the federal debt limit, a 12-member Congressional committee was set up to create a 10-year plan to cut at least $1.5 trillion by Nov. 23.

The Republican-controlled House’s transportation appropriations subcommittee, which adopted its spending bill Sept. 8, also didn’t fund the program for fiscal year 2012.

The $447 billion jobs bill Obama submitted to lawmakers this month seeks to devote $4 billion more to the initiative.

$7 Billion Awarded

The program was created in the 2009 stimulus law and has received $10.1 billion from Congress. The Transportation Department has awarded $7 billion of that amount so far. Most of the money has gone toward increasing the speed on existing passenger routes or project planning.

California has been awarded almost $3.5 billion in stimulus money, which will be matched by state funding for construction starting next year, said Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

“This was a subcommittee vote, and the full committee still needs to vote,” Wall said. “We’ll remain cautiously optimistic as the congressional process plays itself out.”

The state plans to build the largest network of high-speed trains in the U.S., an 800-mile system that would operate at up to 220 miles an hour and cost $43 billion, according to government estimates. It’s counting on federal help to complete the project, which is to connect the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Senate bill would allocate $544 million to Amtrak, the U.S. passenger railroad, for operating grants in 2012, or $18 million less than current funding, according to Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat who is the transportation subcommittee’s chairman. It also would provide $937 million for capital spending and debt service, up $15 million from its fiscal 2011 appropriation.

The House subcommittee bill would give Amtrak $227 million for operations and $899 million in capital and debt-service grants.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE