LaHood: Obama high-speed rail effort 'off to a good start,' despite GOP opposition
Speaking at the start of the World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Philadelphia, LaHood said the rejection of rail money by GOP governors in states like Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio was offset by a recent approval in California.
"We're off to a great start, but we still have a long way to go," he said during a news conference. "We hope our friends in Congress take their cues from California."
LaHood: High-speed rail 'not a pipe dream'
"Only three" governors have rejected high-speed rail money, LaHood said, referring to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are all Republicans. "Thirty-three have accepted it."
He added that the United States has learned from many countries that have built high-speed rail and were represented at the conference in Philadelphia.
"We're learning from our colleagues around the world … and I know we can do it here," LaHood said.
Republicans in Congress however, like House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), have sharply criticized the Obama administration for proposing to build high-speed railways in states outside of the populous northeastern United States, where public transportation and Amtrak are both popular.
But LaHood credited President Obama for including $8 billion in the 2009 stimulus package to expand the national high-speed rail network. The stimulus funding contained both $3 billion that went to the California railway and the money that was rejected by the GOP governors.
"The vision has to begin with national leaders," LaHood said of Obama's initial high-speed rail efforts.
"President Obama realized that, and that's why he included $8 billion in the economic recovery package," he said. "That's what got us in the high-speed rail business."
Asked by an attendee at the rail conference what supporters could do to build on the approval in California, LaHood said they should "put people in office who support their ideas."
"Elections make a difference," he said.
The High-Speed Rail Conference, which is sponsored by the International Union of Railways (UIC) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), is scheduled to take place until Friday.
High-speed-rail executives from around the world are meeting in Philadelphia this week
The Obama administration's pledge to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed trains by 2035 seems increasingly unattainable. Instead, attention has shifted to the Northeast Corridor and California, where hopes for 220-mile-per-hour trains remain highest.
"Maybe we can bring a little help to a vision that is perhaps not fully shared yet in the United States," said Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, director-general of the International Union of Railways in Paris and a leader of the Eighth World Congress on High-Speed Rail, which opens here Wednesday.
That could be in California, where the legislature last week approved, by a single vote, the first $8 billion for a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail line.
It could be on the Washington-to-Boston corridor, where Amtrak on Monday outlined a $151 billion proposal for 220-mile-an-hour trains by 2030.
Or it could be nowhere.
The new national transportation funding act signed by President Obama on Friday contained no money for high-speed rail, although the administration had sought about $8 billion a year. And Republican governors of Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio have spurned federal money for high-speed rail projects, sending the money back to Washington.
"There's no federal money, there's no private money, and states are not in a position to finance it," said Ken Orski, a transportation adviser to several Republican presidents, including George W. Bush. "The conference in Philadelphia will be high on rhetoric and talk of things going on in Europe and the Middle East . . . but in the domestic situation, their only hope is California."
Not so, says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"High-speed rail is alive and well in America," he said Monday. "The future is as bright as it's ever been.
"We will not be dissuaded by the naysayers in Congress. All over the country, ordinary Americans want to get off of clogged highways and have the kind of transportation they see in other countries. This is being driven by ordinary citizens."