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High-Speed Rail ‘Life Support’ Wins Approval by Senate Panel

High-Speed Rail ‘Life Support’ Coming in Senate Amendment
The California High-Speed Rail station in San Jose, California, U.S., is seen in this artist rendering. The state has been awarded $3.5 billion for the high-speed rail program so far. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

A committee of the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate amended spending legislation to direct $100 million to President Barack Obama’s high-speed rail program next year, a day after its transportation subcommittee omitted funding for the initiative.

Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, all Democrats like Obama, proposed reallocating funds earmarked for highway and transit projects at the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting today. The amendment was adopted by voice vote, John Bray, a committee spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The appropriations subcommittee yesterday approved a bill that didn’t include money for the initiative, for which Obama has sought $8 billion in fiscal 2012. Of the $10.1 billion that Congress has directed to the program since 2009, $7.59 billion has been distributed. California is counting on federal funding as it builds a $43 billion system to run trains up to 220 miles per hour between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The money would “be very helpful to keep things on life support until Congress comes to its senses,” Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in a telephone interview. U.S. PIRG is a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that supports government spending on high-speed rail service.

Placeholder Not Enough

The proposal would be a placeholder and not enough to “really advance” high-speed rail, Thomas Hart, vice president for government affairs at the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, said by telephone. The Washington-based group supports the creation of a national high-speed rail network.

The House transportation appropriations subcommittee also didn’t include money for the program in the bill it adopted Sept. 8. The full House Appropriations Committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the measure.

Most of the money has gone to increasing train speeds on existing passenger routes, including $1.1 billion for Illinois to provide 110 mile-per-hour service between Chicago and St. Louis. California, overseeing the only project to build a rail corridor dedicated to high-speed trains, has been awarded $3.5 billion from the program.

In February, Obama asked for $53 billion through 2018 to provide high-speed rail service to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.

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

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