GOP pronounces Obama rail plans dead

House Republicans hailed a vote Thursday on a transportation appropriations bill that eliminates most funding next year for high-speed rail programs. 

They said the vote is the end of President Obama’s vision for a national network of railways. 

The House approved a “minibus” spending bill that provides money to the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies Thursday that eliminated spending dedicated to high-speed rail in 2012.

Obama had envisioned spending $53 billion on the program over six years, including more than $8 billion next year. 

But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said the GOP put the brakes on those plans Thursday afternoon. 

“Today’s vote marks the end to President Obama’s misguided high speed rail program, but it also represents a new beginning for true intercity high-speed passenger rail service in America,” Shuster, who chairs the House subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, said in a statement.

{mosads}”By zeroing out high-speed intercity passenger rail funding, we are being given the unique opportunity to refocus and reform the high-speed rail program on the rail lines that will produce the most benefit for the least amount of cost.” 

Shuster said that he and other members were not against all rail
plans. Instead of Obama’s proposals, he said the GOP support railway
proposals “where it makes sense.” 

“The Obama Administration
bungled its high-speed rail program from the start, losing an important
opportunity to build true high-speed rail in areas where it makes sense,
like the Northeast Corridor,” he said. “Instead, billions of dollars
were spread too thin around the country and spent on incremental
improvements to existing Amtrak services that weren’t high-speed at all.

For their part, Democrats in the House said the bill Thursday was “far from perfect,” but they were resigned to the fate of the rail money for now.

“While the conference report is far from perfect, I truly believe that it is the best we are going to do in the current economic climate,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement of his own.  “As Republicans continue to throw logic to the wind, voting no on this proposal would only cause further harm to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, who are already suffering though this recession.”

Nadler said he hoped Republicans would drop their opposition to Obama’s rail plans, saying “for too long, we have been over-dependent on cars and planes. 

“High Speed Rail should be an option between any cities within a 500 mile radius, providing competitive trip times and fares, freeing up airspace, and benefiting our environment, economy, and national security,” he said. “It makes no sense to abandon our efforts to develop High Speed Rail in this country, so I hope that Republicans abandon their efforts to kill it.”

With Obama’s rail plans having been thwarted by Congress, Shuster said lawmakers will focus on plans from Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who until recently had pushed to privatize Amtrak service in the northeast, which is the agency’s most profitable region. 

“Under Chairman Mica’s leadership, the Transportation and Infrastructure (Committee) will now advance a focused and effective high-speed intercity rail program that attracts private investment to create a sustainable and successful high-speed rail system in the Northeast Corridor and beyond,” he said.

—This post was updated with new information at 5:54 p.m.

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