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GAO: Gov't lacks strategic high-speed rail plan

(The Associated Press circulated the following story by Kimberly Hefling on June 24, 2009.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. agency in charge of $8 billion in stimulus money for high-speed rail projects doesn't have an adequate plan to oversee the projects, and the system of super-fast trains ultimately will cost much more than even the $8 billion, a government watchdog official told Congress on Tuesday.

The Federal Railroad Administration does not have a clear role other than to distribute the stimulus money, which states are competing fiercely to obtain, said Susan A. Fleming, director of infrastructure issues at the Government Accountability Office.

"In our view, it is more of a vision than a strategic plan," Fleming said.

The Transportation Department's deputy secretary, John Porcari, said the agency's plan was "carefully thought out."

Fleming also said the $8 billion represents only a small fraction of the estimated costs for starting and enhancing service on federally authorized high speed rail corridors.

"While the potential benefits of high-speed rail projects are many, these projects - both here and abroad - are costly, take years to develop and build, and require substantial upfront public investment, as well as potentially long-term operating subsidies," Fleming said.

Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., told lawmakers that the federal government needs to ensure adequate funding for such projects - a sentiment shared by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who chaired the Senate transportation subcommittee hearing.

"We can't do infrastructure on the cheap," Rendell said. "We have to find the political courage to find a way to pay for this."

Fleming said in Japan and many other countries with such high-speed rail projects, there was a significant investment by the government.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

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