GAO Says We Need More Than a Vision for High Speed Rail

Excited about the prospect of high speed rail in America? Lots of people have been. But as Yonah Freemark reports on The Transport Politic, yesterday the General Accountability Office threw a bit of a wet blanket on the growing enthusiasm. The GAO is saying the Obama administration has so far failed to provide clear goals and a comprehensive plan for a high speed rail system:

254090836_5e5e644124_m.jpgWant trains like Spain’s? We need a plan. Photo by dewet via Flickr.

[A]t a [June 23] hearing in the U.S. Senate, General Accounting Office Director of Physical Infrastructure Susan Fleming described her concerns
about the government’s distribution of high-speed rail funds. She focused on the Federal Railroad Administration’s unwillingness thus far to lay out specific goals for American fast train strategy and argued that the Department of Transportation must establish a coordinated, long-term plan for providing funds. Meanwhile, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman and Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo continued to mistakenly argue that U.S. plans match those of European countries.

Ms. Fleming’s statement comes three months after the release of GAO’s major report on high-speed rail, which advocated a major federal investment in the transportation mode. Emphasizing that that report pushed the DOT to pinpoint specific goals for rail improvement, Ms. Fleming argued that the Obama Administration’s actions so far were little more than a “vision,” rather than “a strategic plan.”

The U.S. must “define goals for investing in high speed rail,” she said, and describe “how these investments will achieve them, how the federal government will determine which corridors it could invest in, [and] how high speed rail investments could be evaluated against possible alternative modes in those corridors.”
Ms. Fleming said that the FRA largely agreed with her opinions. In
fact, DOT has been planning to release a draft national rail plan by
mid-October; however, that is a month after the FRA will release initial stimulus bill grants to applicant projects for rail investment.

Meanwhile, Greater Greater Washington looks at Metro’s safety systems in the wake of Monday’s crash. Complete Streets Blog reports they’re rallying for complete streets in Topeka, KS.  And Hard Drive writes about a study that shows that for the first time, more people in Amsterdam are making trips by bicycle than by car.

  • lexslamman

    The important thing is that this draft national rail plan that the Federal DOT is working on is complete before we pass the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, that way we have a framework for spending the appropriation – but all of this is for naught if we fail to pass that Act.

  • My biggest beef is that we are talking about “high speed rail” and having people go to Europe to show people how great it is, then coming back and investing in a 110MPH “Amatrak on steroids” solution that is NOTHING like Europe. I’m not saying don’t do that or that incremental HSR improvements shouldn’t be made, but let’s not mislead people into thinking this is “high speed rail” or we’ll just end up ruining the high speed rail brand in the United States.

  • Just like we’re ruining the Bus Rapid Transit brand in the US when we refer to Select Bus Service as BRT.

  • I agree. Geting from STL to Chicago in four hours instead of five isn’t going to make anyone get out of their car and billing that trip as some kind of super fast train magic trick is going to turn people off when the train doesn’t get above 110mph.

  • How did Eisenhower administration do it? How did they manage to build the Interstates while, according to Wikipedia, they “oversaw the cease-fire of the Korean War, kept up the pressure on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, made nuclear weapons a higher defense priority, launched the Space Race,” and “enlarged the Social Security program.”

  • I am happy to announce the public release of High Speed Rail USA’s website. We are a not-for-profit advocating for a national high speed rail system of 220 mph trains across America. We believe in educating the American public about the true potential of high speed rail. Please check out our website, and check back often as we continue to grow and spread the message.


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