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Denham Statement from Hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Challenges and Opportunities for Intercity Passenger Rail Service

Washington, D.C., June 22, 2017 | Justin Harclerode (202) 225-9446 | comments
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Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Hearing on “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Challenges and Opportunities for Intercity Passenger Rail Service”

June 22, 2017
Opening Statement
(Remarks as Prepared)


Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing to consider the challenges and opportunities for intercity passenger rail service.

At the outset, I want to thank Mr. Capuano for his bipartisan work to reauthorize Amtrak for five years as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST Act.  The legislation included important reforms and restructured rail grant programs, while also establishing a state of good repair program aimed at the Northeast Corridor.

I am also pleased at the progress that has been made on implementation of PRIIA, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.  A consistent methodology to allocate operating and capital costs associated with Amtrak corridor services has been implemented, and a methodology to allocate costs among all the users of the Northeast Corridor is in the process of being implemented.  As a result of these changes, this year Amtrak will receive $286.6 million from 18 states and approximately $119 million from commuter authorities.

But in one respect, our approach to intercity passenger rail service has been scattershot. Over $10 billion was appropriated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the fiscal year 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Act to fund conventional and high-speed passenger rail projects.

But rather than investing these funds strategically to achieve specific outcomes, the Obama Administration distributed the funds widely, making about 150 grants to 34 states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak.  The result is that mostly incremental improvements were made across the country.  Further, $1 billion of the $8 billion in ARRA funds has not been spent and will be turned back to the Treasury at the end of September.

Particularly concerning to me is that nearly $4 billion of the funding was dedicated to the California high-speed rail project, which has seen its costs skyrocket at the same time that the scope of the project has diminished.

What was sold to the voters as a $33 billion project that would connect all of California’s major cities by 2020 is now a $64 billion project without connections to Sacramento and San Diego, with an optimistic completion date of 2029, and “blended” service over commuter rail at both ends of the line.  The initial operating segment alone, extending from San Jose to a point north of Bakersfield, will cost over $20 billion.

Other Members of the Subcommittee may also have concerns about the projects selected to receive ARRA funding. 

Given the limited federal dollars available for intercity passenger rail projects, it is imperative that projects be better prioritized to accomplish specific national goals.

This hearing is also about understanding new technologies that will transform our passenger rail network.  As an example, a number of the Members of this Subcommittee have experienced high-speed trains in Europe and Asia and alternative technologies such as maglev.

I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here and look forward to a lively discussion. 

Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information. 

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