A two-hour rocket train between New York and Washington is a step closer to reality after the House passed legislation requiring the federal government to solicit proposals for its financing and development.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 311 to 104 with the backing of New York City's delegation, calls for $14.4 billion in rail investment in the next five years. Some of those funds could go toward the development of the high-speed passenger train, as well as other local projects, such as a renovated Pennsylvania Station to be named after Senator Moynihan.
The bill includes provisions that would allow the private sector to make proposals to develop, construct, and finance the high-speed rail service. It also leaves open the possibility of Amtrak bidding for, or becoming a partner in, the service.
"This should start a whole new era for rail transportation in the country, and New York is probably the biggest beneficiary of what we did," the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, who proposed the high-speed rail service and co-sponsored the bill, said in an interview.
Mr. Mica met with Mayor Bloomberg, who said he strongly supports the idea of a high-speed train, last month in New York. The initial high-speed train route would be between New York and Washington, and would serve as a test program for the development of additional high-speed rail service in other corridors throughout America.
The Senate approved a similar bill on October 30, 2007, 70 to 22, with Senator Schumer in favor and Senator Clinton absent. Provisions that would allow for the rocket train and private sector control of part of Amtrak's routes still must pass through conference committees. To become law the bill would also have to be signed by President Bush, who has threatened to veto it.
The legislation calls for the Department of Transportation to solicit proposals for financing and development of the high-speed train. The department would then convene a commission of state, local, federal, rail, and rail labor stakeholders to evaluate proposals and give recommendations to Congress.
In addition to a new high-speed rail corridor, the bill authorizes $500 million a year for a new state grant program focusing on intercity passenger rail projects. New York's stalled Moynihan Station plan in Midtown would be eligible to apply for the grants.
In a statement before the vote was conducted, a member of the transportation committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, pledged his support for a bill that he said would dramatically change rail service in America.
"Investing in high-speed rail is an urgent issue. We must accelerate investment in our rail infrastructure," Mr. Nadler said in a statement. "This bill finally starts to authorize rail investments at an adequate level, and it makes eminent sense as part of a rational energy and transportation policy."
The bill would also reauthorize Amtrak's rail service for five more years.