US budget eliminates high-speed rail funds

President Barack Obama had requested $1bn in fiscal year 2011 high-speed rail funds, but Congress allocated no federal money to high-speed rail projects in the stopgap budget bill.

The continuing resolution drafted by Congress to fund the US federal government through September has completely eliminated high-speed rail funds, dealing another blow to President Barack Obama’s plan to extend high-speed rail to 80 percent of the country in the next 25 years.

President Obama requested $1 billion for high-speed rail in the fiscal year 2011 budget, following $2.5 billion Congress approved in 2010 and $8 billion granted in the 2009 stimulus bill.

But the House Appropriations Committee opted not only to eliminate all new funding for high speed rail, but also to take away $400 million in funds from the previous year, according to a statement.

The move marks the latest setback for the high-speed rail agenda being promoted by President Obama, who earlier this year championed a $53 billion, six-year funding plan for high-speed rail. The proposal was part of the vision he unveiled in his January State of the Union Address “to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail” within 25 years.

In December, Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected $1.2 billion in federal high-speed rail funds, and Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott recently rejected the $2.4 billion marked for the development of his state’s high-speed rail corridor.

The US Department of Transportation decided to redistribute Florida’s funds to other states’ high-speed rail programmes. The Federal Railroad Administration is currently in the process of evaluation applications from 24 states as well as government-owned passenger rail operator Amtrak.

California requested all of Florida’s rejected funding for its $43 billion project to construct an 800-mile high-speed rail network connecting the state’s major population centres.

Jeffrey Barker, deputy executive director for public outreach at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said the federal budget cuts don’t affect California’s existing $3.6 billion in federal funding nor its ability to compete for Florida’s rejected funds.

But, he said the budget cuts are still sending “the wrong signal to the private sector”.

“If we want the private sector to invest in high-speed rail projects – which we do here in California – it needs to see a consistent long-term commitment from the federal government to fund the development of these systems, not the volatility of funding one year and none the next,” Barker wrote in an email.

Obama’s proposed 2012 budget makes transportation and infrastructure spending a priority. Aside from the proposed six-year, $53 billion high-speed rail funding plan, of which would $8 billion would have come in 2012, the budget also includes $556 billion for six-year surface transportation legislation and $30 billion over six years for a National Infrastructure Bank to fund projects of “regional or national significance”.