High-speed rail sparks war of words among US politicians

The ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee called the Midwest states’ proposed high-speed rail routes ‘another bailout programme with low-speed trains to nowhere’. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told Georgia it ‘doesn’t have its act together’ and therefore didn’t deserve more funding for its high-speed rail efforts.

Ten days after doling out a historic $8 billion in stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects, the government’s largesse has sparked a war of words among politicians defending their states’ respective high-speed rail efforts.

On the same day that President Obama unveiled the winning states, Representative John Mica, the Republican leader of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, questioned whether high-speed rail routes in the Midwest are a good use of taxpayer money.

The last thing the American people need is another bailout programme with low-speed trains to nowhere

John Mica

“The Midwest routes chosen will only achieve a top speed of 110 miles per hour and were selected more for political reasons than for high-speed service. The last thing the American people need is another bailout programme with low-speed trains to nowhere,” Mica told USA Today, a daily newspaper.

The high-speed rail funding has sparked a sharp debate among industry participants whether states should prioritise “true” high-speed rail like California’s planned 200 mile per hour train system over slower, more conventional rail systems that can only travel at top speeds of 110 miles per hour.

Together, the Midwest states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Kansas received $2.6 billion for developing their routes – money local Congressmen said was well-deserved despite their routes’ comparatively slower speeds.

“Your statement has no place in civil discourse and we urge you to retract it immediately,” the 24 Midwest Congressmen wrote to Mica in a letter, adding that Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri are among the states with the highest unemployment rates in the country. The high-speed rail funding will create desperately needed jobs, they said.

A spokesperson for Mica did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Your statement has no place in civil discourse

Midwest Congressional delegation

Georgia, another state that competed for high-speed rail, also received sharp words about its application, this time from US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Georgia did not receive any federal money for high-speed rail projects because “Georgia doesn’t have its act together. The state legislature doesn’t want to put money in for high-speed rail”, LaHood said, according to a blog written by one of the newspaper's reporters.

The pocket-change in high-speed rail funding in turn sparked finger-pointing among Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue and Georgia’s Representative John Lewis, who blamed each other for the state’s poor showing.

In October 2009, the US Department of Transportation received 45 applications from 24 states for $50 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail corridor programmes. On 28 January, the money

Georgia doesn't have its act together

Ray LaHood

was awarded on a competitive basis, with California and Florida, the two states with the fastest planned routes, receiving the largest single awards at $2.25 billion and $1.25 billion, respectively.
Secretary LaHood has said he expects high-speed rail to be an area of infrastructure investment that will benefit greatly from private-sector involvement.

“We don’t expect the taxpayers to pay for all of this,” he said during an interview last month with Infrastructure Investor magazine. “It’s a combination of public and private expertise from other parts of the world coming to America.”