The Missing High-Speed Rail Money
Two bills in Congress that could deliver the most substantial investments in railroads in modern U.S. history made significant progress this week. The House voted to instruct committees to begin writing details of a $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” bill. At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) agreed to bring a separate, $1 trillion infrastructure bill—already approved by the Senate—to a vote by Sept. 27.
The infrastructure bill contains $66 billion over five years in funding for passenger rail. HSR corridors would be eligible for about $12 billion of the funds, and the bill contains $39 billion for public transit.
Details of the reconciliation bill will be written and negotiated over the next few weeks, so it’s critical that members of Congress hear from rail advocates. The U.S. High Speed Rail Coalition (which HSRA belongs to) is pushing for $20 billion in dedicated funding for HSR in the reconciliation bill, along with $10 billion in additional funding for public transit.
HSRA has followed progress on these bills for several weeks. See our previous coverage here, here, and here. (We’ve covered the infrastructure bill as Track 1 and the reconciliation bill as Track 2 of four legislative tracks with potential implications for HSR.)
The Biden administration is touting the infrastructure package as the nation’s single largest investment ever in Amtrak. But, as the Urban Institute notes, “adjusted for inflation and population, the rail expenditure would not be the largest in US history. Between 1978 and 1982, the US spent $47 (2021 dollars) per resident on rail annually, compared with $36 proposed per resident annually between now and 2026.”
The lack of dedicated funds for HSR in the infrastructure package makes the content of the reconciliation bill all the more critical to the future of trains in the U.S. Together, these two bills could be truly transformative—but only if Congress comes through with significantly more funding for HSR.
Please contact your representatives right now and tell them you strongly support funding levels that will create a world-class network of high-speed trains and public transit across the U.S. That starts with approving $66 billion for passenger rail in the infrastructure bill—and $20 billion in dedicated HSR funds in the reconciliation bill.
When you call and write, you can mention the strong support that HSR received this week from three former secretaries of the U.S. Transportation Department, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. As they wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “we believe that high-speed rail is the most effective way to move America’s transportation system into the 21st century.” They also observed that a network of high-speed corridors “is the most powerful strategy to dramatically reduce climate pollution while reducing traffic congestion and improving intercity travel.”
Congress is now in recess but will return in September—when there will likely be intense negotiations over when (and if) the bills come to a vote.
In short, progressive Democrats want the bills to be voted on together. More moderate Democrats want to pass the infrastructure package as soon as possible; and many are skeptical about the spending levels proposed in the reconciliation bill. At times, both sides have threatened to tank the bills if things don’t go their way. More details on those developments will follow in September.
For now, the key point is this: You can make an impact on how things play out by calling and writing your representatives. (Calls are especially effective; better yet, visit their offices or attend a town-hall meeting.)
Tell them that you agree with three former Transportation secretaries, as well as the current one: America must fully commit to—and aggressively invest in—a world-class network of fast, frequent trains.