Private investment urged for high-speed rail hopes
Published 4:15 pm, Tuesday, February 1, 2011
HARTFORD -- Private-sector investment will be the key to developing high-speed rail lines along the nation's Northeast corridor, according to a key congressman.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said last week he believes the market is there to attract private partners in the effort to bring the normal 2 ½-hour train ride from Washington, D.C., to New York down to 90 minutes or an hour.
Shuster, chairman of the railroad subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, predicted there will be major commitments this year for high-speed rail along the coastal cities, as well as the planned expansion of the rail system between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.
Connecticut lawmakers joined their regional counterparts in a two-hour meeting here and said the infrastructure money would be a major investment in reducing traffic congestion, competing with airlines and creating jobs for a construction industry with 20 to 30 percent unemployment.
"I believe it's good for America to develop a high-speed rail corridor in the Northeast corridor," Shuster told reporters after the meeting. "It's a place we have to start, we have to accomplish it, because then I believe all of America, in the various corridors around the country, will want high-speed rail if they see success here."
Shuster acknowledged that there is opposition in Congress, with some lawmakers in favor of eliminating Amtrak.
"I think that's wrong," Shuster said, noting that while passenger rail systems are subsidized, freight rail traffic is not and that is the model for high-speed rail, with speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, to follow.
"In the Northeast corridor, you can make a billion dollars profit," Shuster predicted.
"The point is, I believe we can have a passenger rail service in this country that doesn't need large subsidies from the government; can move toward break even or profitability if we do it in the right way," he said.
U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st, who arranged the meeting, said rail improvements are about the future of the nation.
"Yes, we're going to have to spend and we're going to have to make the investments," Larson said.
The morning-long meeting, which took place in Union Station, included most of the state's congressional delegation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, state transportation officials and their counterparts from Massachusetts, including Democratic U.S. Rep. John Olver.
The state is in the planning phases of an $800 million project to add another track and expand service from New Haven through Meriden, Hartford and north to Springfield. Next week, the State Bond Commission is expected to approve funding for the final 10 percent of 380 new rail cars.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd, said that so far, the federal government has invested $160 million, while the state has committed $280 million to the New Haven-to-Springfield project.
DeLauro, Malloy and Larson said rail line work will be part of President Barack Obama's national strategy for getting people back to work while upgrading the region's infrastructure.