The prospect of a high-speed rail system remains elusive despite a $10 billion federal investment, lawmakers said Thursday.
High-speed rail has been hailed as a way to transform the future of the transportation system in the U.S., with President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaA simple fix can bring revolutionary change to health spending US and UK see eye to eye on ending illegal wildlife trade Top nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report MORE vowing that trains will be able to get passengers to their destinations more quickly than airplanes one day.
But even after the big buy-in from the government, the project that is closest to being completed could still be a decade away, while only 300 miles on four lines in the U.S. currently have segments capable of operating at 110 miles an hour.
“Seven years later, we only have high-speed rail as part of our imagination,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets. “We don’t have any real projects we can point to that are operational, or even close to that.”
Lawmakers passed passenger rail legislation and a 2009 economic stimulus package that included a plan to upgrade speeds on existing rail routes and create new high-speed rail corridors. Congress has appropriated a total of more than $10 billion for the efforts.
About $3.9 billion in stimulus funding went to California, but Mica lamented that the state’s high-speed rail project has been mired in delays, almost doubled its budget and lowered its initial speed projections.
Meanwhile, he said, countries have far surpassed the U.S. in the quest for high-speed rail. In China, passengers can travel the 635 miles from Beijing to Nanjing at an average speed of 174 miles an hour.
“While the Obama administration has failed to deliver high-speed rail, around the world there are some incredibly successful projects,” Mica said. “Even the Russians have leaped ahead of us.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), ranking member on the committee, emphasized that a key element of the high-speed rail initiative was to improve existing railways in order to increase capacity, frequency and speed, not just create new ones.
“Just as a racecar cannot run on a dirt road, you cannot run a bullet train on 100-year-old tracks,” she said.
Sarah Feinberg, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said more than half of the 150 projects under the initiative have been completed.
But Mica argued that the federal program should have funneled all its resources into one project, instead of spreading itself too thin.
“My preference would have been to put the money in the Northeast corridor in one route, and show some success,” he said. “Maybe $10 billion wouldn’t have done it, but it would have been good seed money.”