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LaHood to airlines: Get onboard the high-speed train

(The following story by Scott McCartney appeared on the Wall Street Journal website on March 10, 2010.)

NEW YORK — The airline industry was left fuming last year when some $8 billion on federal stimulus money was appropriated for high-speed rail while air-traffic control modernization got no new funds.

Airlines see high-speed trains as competition that could further erode their customer bases, and they were left befuddled how rail projects decades away could be “shovel ready’’ when the next-generation air-traffic control system that airlines say will reduce delays and boost air-travel capacity didn’t get any action from the Obama Administration.

And so when Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood addressed the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual forecasting conference in Washington, D.C., the first question from the airline industry audience was about trains. Why so much for trains and not for planes?

Mr. LaHood gave a politician’s answer about how important the NextGen air-traffic control modernization effort is to the Administration. Then he paused and went off-script.

“Let me give you a little bit of political advice: Don’t be against high-speed rail,’’ Sec. LaHood said. “It’s coming to America. This is the president’s vision, this is the vice president’s vision, this is America’s vision…. We’re going to get into the high-speed rail business.’’

In two or three decades, Mr. LaHood said, U.S. cities will be connected by high-speed rail – whether airlines like it or not.

“People want alternatives,’’ he said pointedly. “People are still going to fly, but we need alternatives. So get with the program.’’

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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