November 27, 1991
The surface transportation conferees completed their work yesterday afternoon. The conference report was filed at midnight. The full House passed the conference bill early this morning, 377-42. The Senate passed it this afternoon, 79-8.
Of course, the bad news is that on the evening of November 24, the conferees dropped Senate language that included intercity passenger rail and high speed rail as eligible uses of the $24 million flexible account of the highway trust fun -- the "Surface Transportation Program." We hear that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) fought hard against the deletion, but could not persuade the Chairman of the House Public Works Committee, Robert Roe (D.-N.J.). House Energy and Commerce has jurisdiction over railroads, including Amtrak. But Roe, like many on the House Public Works Committee, does not want Highway Trust Fund money to go to Amtrak or any other program controlled by House Energy and Commerce. So this was a turf battle. Roe and House Public Works won -- and the losers are supporters of balanced transportation.
Conferees earmarked $725 million to develop a prototype magnetic levitation system at least 19 miles long, but only $50 million for a "National High-Speed Ground Transportation Demonstration Program" that could be used for maglev and high-speed rail projects, the latter defined as trains "reasonably expected to reach sustained speeds of more than 125 mph." Another $25 million was earmarked for a companion research and development package.
A $250,000 UMTA study of a rail link in the Boston Central Artery got in, thanks to Senator Mitchell (D.-Me.).
Transit got $31.5 billion -- a healthy number, but down $500 million that was shifted to maglev; we don't have the year-by-year breakdown, but the transit average is $5.2 billion a year, up from this year's $3.8 billion and last year's $3.3 billion. Transit also is eligible for the $24-billion flexible pot and should benefit from the transfer of project selection choices from states to metropolitan planning organizations and from the fact that $15 billion of the flexible money goes straight to those organizations.
It seems unreasonable to provide so much for maglev -- a non-existent transportation mode -- while completely cutting out passenger rail (Amtrak), which serves millions.
Please write your Representative and Senators this weekend and protest this move by Chairman Roe, even if you already called this week. Write whether your Representative is a conferee or not. Tell them you are very upset that House Public Works did not include Amtrak in the surface transportation bill, as the Senate had tried to do. We got reports that Congress is hearing our message of anger this week, so keep up the pressure. The more the hear from us, the more they will realize that House Public Works made a mistake in letting a petty rivalry with House Energy and Commerce dictate unwise transportation policy, and the firmer the foundation for the corrective action Amtrak supporters may undertake next year.
"We would not be in the position we’re in if it weren’t for the advocacy of so many of you, over a long period of time, who have believed in passenger rail, and believe that passenger rail should really be a part of America’s intermodal transportation system."
Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation
2011 Spring Council Meeting