Saturday, December 12, 2009

High-speed rail

Florida lawmakers invested in commuter rail this week, believing the support would help the state win a slice of federal stimulus money set aside for rail projects. But the competition is stiff.

Eight Midwestern states -- including Illinois, home to President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- are bidding for the same federal rail money. California alone is seeking $4.7 billion for a bullet train from Sacramento to San Diego.

In all, nearly 40 states and Washington, D.C., have sent in applications for rail money totaling nearly $60 billion -- with only $8 billion to go around.

As LaHood put it this week, "applications have poured in from all corners of the country." . . .

And analysts note that proposals in Congress promise billions of dollars more for high-speed rail projects even after the stimulus dollars are awarded, likely in January.

Obama proposed to spend $1 billion a year on a high-speed rail grant program in his 2010 budget. The Senate topped him at $1.2 billion -- and the House approved $4 billion. The chambers are expected to compromise on $2.5 billion.

While we're stuck with the bills for this latest multi billion dollar boondoggle (which most of us will never use, and will therefore always operate at a loss), there's only one group that will ever profit from high-speed rail - - the lobbyists.

The federal interest in a nationwide high-speed rail network has touched off a feeding frenzy among interests vying for the money. A recent study by the Center for Public Integrity found the number of high-speed rail lobbyists had tripled from 2008.

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