LaHood: Obama high-speed rail effort 'off to a good start,' despite GOP opposition

LaHood used a vote last week by state lawmakers in California to move forward with a high-speed railway to push back on questions about Republican governors who have turned down funds for projects in other states.

"Only three" governors have rejected high-speed rail money, LaHood said, referring to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are all Republicans. "Thirty-three have accepted it."

He added that the United States has learned from many countries that have built high-speed rail and were represented at the conference in Philadelphia.

"We're learning from our colleagues around the world … and I know we can do it here," LaHood said.

Republicans in Congress however, like House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), have sharply criticized the Obama administration for proposing to build high-speed railways in states outside of the populous northeastern United States, where public transportation and Amtrak are both popular. 

But LaHood credited President Obama for including $8 billion in the 2009 stimulus package to expand the national high-speed rail network. The stimulus funding contained both $3 billion that went to the California railway and the money that was rejected by the GOP governors.

"The vision has to begin with national leaders," LaHood said of Obama's initial high-speed rail efforts.

"President Obama realized that, and that's why he included $8 billion in the economic recovery package," he said. "That's what got us in the high-speed rail business." 

Asked by an attendee at the rail conference what supporters could do to build on the approval in California, LaHood said they should "put people in office who support their ideas."

"Elections make a difference," he said.

The High-Speed Rail Conference, which is sponsored by the International Union of Railways (UIC) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), is scheduled to take place until Friday.