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Opinion: Will Amtrak get private competition in the Northeast Corridor?

(The following column appeared on The Infrastructurist website on March 17, 2011.)

Florida’s high-speed rail line is deader than dead. Meanwhile Ray LaHood announced last week that the $2.4 billion in federal funding forfeited by the state will be made available to other bullet lines through a competitive, “merit-driven process.” States across the country have already begun to lobby for the money.

While no decision has been made, some of the funding appears destined for the Northeast Corridor. A few days after announcing his $2.4 billion competition, LaHood officially designated the Northeast Corridor a “high-speed rail” corridor — something it strangely was not, despite running the country’s only fast(ish) train, the Acela. The move makes Amtrak, which operates the corridor, eligible to apply for part of the Florida pot, and rail-friendly Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has made clear that it will.

From a political perspective, the Northeast Corridor also appears to be the one region where Republicans are amenable to fast trains. During a congressional hearing last week, Republican John Mica, head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expressed his belief that focusing on the northeast is the smart move.

But Mica’s position, as the above quote makes clear, has a critical qualification: he believes the private sector, and not Amtrak, is most capable of properly serving the Northeast Corridor.

The full column is available on The Infrastructurist website.

Friday, March 18, 2011

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