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US Rep.: High speed rail will ease transport woes

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Samantha Bomkamp on May 13.)

NEW YORK — The development of a high-speed rail network in the Northeastern U.S. should be the first step toward expanding and improving the nation's infrastructure, U.S. Rep. John L. Mica said at a conference Tuesday.

Speaking at the Dow Jones Infrastructure Summit, Mica, R-Fla., said the development of a high-speed rail network would transform the heavily traveled New York-to-Washington corridor and begin to ease the burden on congested highways.

The high speed rail initiative is a cornerstone of legislation co-sponsored by Mica, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act would authorize more than $14.4 billion in funding for Amtrak, state passenger grants and high-speed rail over the next five years. The Rail Infrastructure Development and Expansion Act seeks to provide $24 billion in federal funds to build the high-speed network.

A train on the proposed high-speed network is defined as one that can reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour. Amtrak's high-speed Acela service, by comparison, averages about 83 miles per hour, Mica said.

Amtrak will not be involved in any of the aspects of the new high-speed plan, Mica said. The service has not produced a profit since its launch in 1971, and relies heavily on government funding.

Mica said the ultimate goal would be to produce a passenger transit rail system that can travel between New York and Washington in about two hours.

In response to a suggestion that the Air Transport Association _ a trade group for the U.S. airline industry _ would not support such a proposal, Mica underlined the urgent need to update the rail system.

"We'll drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century," he said.

The upgraded rail network is merely the tip of the iceberg, though, of changes that Mica deems necessary to modernize the nation's highways, tracks and bridges. Funding for the projects remains a major hurdle. He estimates that about $1.5 trillion must be spent over the next five years just to maintain the current system.

Mica suggests that a partnership between public and private financiers is the key to getting some projects _ including the high speed rail network _ off the ground. Next, Mica said the regions that require the most help need to be identified and plans on how to connect individual state networks need to be laid out.

"All you need is the rules of the game, and then you can play," he said.

Mica urged that plans be developed soon to prevent disasters resulting from aging infrastructure, such as the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last year that killed 13 people.

"The good thing is, the country deals well with crises," he said. "Because the nation's infrastructure is crumbling."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

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