The stimulus, which we were mourning only last week, has come out of conference committee mysteriously flush with passenger rail money. The big surprise is that funding for HSR has jumped from John Kerry’s $2 billion in the Senate bill to a whopping $8 billion in the final version. And check out who’s behind it according to the Associated Press:
In late-stage talks, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pressed for $8 billion to construct high-speed rail lines, quadrupling the amount in the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.
Reid’s office issued a statement noting that a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail might get a big chunk of the money.
There are certainly more important routes to focus on right now than the LA-Las Vegas route, but we won’t get into that right now. Chalk it up to typical politician behavior. The big news is that perhaps President Obama will be doing more than just paying lip service to passenger rail.
Amtrak also gets a significant bump from the Senate’s $850 million to $1.3 billion. This, however, comes at the cost of $300 million of passenger rail grants to states. This is bad news for states like Vermont, which is struggling to maintain the subsidies for its popular Amtrak lines amid the economic crunch.
Unfortunately, although rail and transit are both parts to a more sustainable whole, local non-auto transportation got stuck with the lower levels of funding set aside in the Senate bill. Streetsblog describes it as a slap in the face. It’s a shame, but, as the Transport Politic points out, this is the single biggest federal investment in American passenger rail ever. This hopefully signals a more positive attitude about sustainable transportation in general under this administration. This year’s transportation bill will be the critical test of that.
But for now, all of you who contacted your legislators should give yourself a pat on the back. This looks like a rather surprising victory for passenger rail.