This Really is "Infrastructure Week"
In the next week or so, the US House of Representatives will be voting on the new infrastructure bill. How this bill was passed, what is in it, and what it will eventually look like is like trying to figure out all of the ingredients in a Thanksgiving potluck dinner.
However, here is what we have so far:
There are two bills being considered. The first is the bill passed by the Senate back in August which is a more traditional bill for roadways, transit, and high-speed internet access. This bill was bipartisan with both Democrats and Republicans voting for it. More importantly this bill contains $66 billion in transit funding, with Amtrak getting $46 billion directly and another $12 billion which high-speed rail is eligible for. This bill is expected to be supported by both Democrats and Republicans and is likely to pass.
The second bill is the more controversial bill and includes many social programs and sustainability initiatives. This bill will have no Republican support and will be passed by a simple majority using a budget process rather than traditional vote, but all Democrats have to vote for it. Therefore this bill is having some difficulty getting passed. More concerning is that many Democrats have stated that they won’t vote for the primary infrastructure bill unless this second bill is also passed along at the same time, which throws both bills in jeopardy.
So it is really that second bill, that doesn’t contain high speed rail funding, that the news has been talking about over the past few weeks.
On a different thought… since the bill was passed to the House, an additional $10 billion in high-speed rail funding has been added to the Senate (original) bill by the Transportation and Infrastructure committee (Awesome!). This additional $10 billion is not just for shovel ready projects, but for development and study of potential projects which makes it very exciting!
The vote has not yet been scheduled, but is expected in late September/early October.
So what does this mean for High Speed Rail:
In my opinion, this is a very good start. After all we were not going to get $100 billion grants for high speed rail... yet. America needs to see a true, world-class high-speed rail system operating here before politicians can stand in front of voters and make an investment on par with the Interstate Highway System. However, it's important to remember that before the interstate system was authorized, turnpikes that resembled the future interstate had been built and operating, which proved that interstates work here. That needs to happen with high speed rail and that is why we need to get at least one true high speed rail project up and running to unlock the real funds to build high speed rail in the US.
The Amtrak part is also exciting. They are about to get the most money since Amtrak was originally setup in 1971; and my bet is money will also be going to Texas Central, Brightline, and California (Hyperloop will have a hand out as well). More importantly for us, a significant amount of money will go towards the planning and development of other high speed rail lines in the US (Hello, Badger Express between Chicago and Minneapolis). Finally, because high speed rail is being identified as a green alternative to automobiles, some funds allocated to climate change could be reallocated to high-speed rail further increasing funding.
Also of interest is that the biggest piece of funding for Amtrak is not the Northeast Corridor, rather it is for state supported services such as Milwaukee to Chicago and beyond. In fact, Amtrak has already had discussions about increased service for both service from Chicago to Minneapolis…BUT ALSO SERVING MADISON! Not talking about the Amtrak coach bus operated by Van Galder here, but perhaps revisiting the Madison to Chicago high(er) speed train project of 2008.
…This may finally be the start we have been looking for!
Of course, in the press release for one of the greatest supporters of high speed rail in Congress - Representative’s Moulton’s, it was mentioned that the $10 billion just added is for speeding up existing lines into high-speed rail. This does leave open some questions about Texas Central, Brightline, and California; which are all new lines. This is rather perplexing since Representative Moulton has been so involved with Texas Central.
Wrapping it all Up
Of course the final bill has yet to be issued. So we won’t know the requirements and stipulations, and the final amounts till it is voted upon and possibly reconciled with the bill passed in the Senate. However, it is looking good and if Texas Central were funded (and even Brightline West) it would just be five more years until the first 200 mph trains start rolling between cities. Then once American’s get a taste of airplanes without wings, we may finally see this high speed renaissance we have all been waiting for.
So let’s see what happens these next few weeks!
For more Information:
The High Speed Rail Alliance has had some very good articles on the Infrastructure Bill:
Senate passes infrastructure bill and budget resolution
Infrastructure bill—with largest investments ever in HSR, Amtrak, transit—moves forward
And Representative Moulton’s press release: