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Oberstar cheers plan for rail spending

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on May 8, 2009.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The key lawmaker for transportation policies in the House of Representatives lauded President Obama’s budget plan for its unprecedented spending requests for passenger rail systems.

Rep. James L. Oberstar, D.-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the funding amounts planned for Amtrak and development of high-speed rail systems rival the highway system expansion that began in the 1950s and spurred economic growth for decades.

The president’s request, which was detailed May 7 for the government’s budget year that begins in October, seeks $1.5 billion for Amtrak and another $1 billion for high-speed rail. That is the most ever sought by a president, Oberstar said, and “is in direct contrast to the starvation diet” Amtrak had been on under former President Bush.

Oberstar did not comment on how passenger rail systems can also boost the freight networks, but much of that rail investment could upgrade existing freight rail corridors that are also used by passenger trains and could help shift more freight off highways in favor of rail hauls. To the extent it gets more drivers off the highways and into trains, the investment in passenger rail also eases congestion and repair needs on roads used by trucks.

The lawmaker said President Obama’s commitment to those passenger rail systems “is unparalleled, and it equals President Eisenhower’s commitment to building the interstate highway system in 1956.”

The funding request for the coming year is on top of Recovery Act allocations of $1.3 billion for Amtrak and $8 billion for high- or higher-speed rail projects.

Oberstar said the White House budget plan also “includes a placeholder (amount) to represent continued funding at current levels for surface transportation programs until the administration can develop a comprehensive surface transportation reauthorization proposal.”

Congress, in its own budget resolution, assumed the upcoming surface transportation bill would need to spend at least $324 billion over six years.

Monday, May 11, 2009

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