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House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearing on Nation’s High-Speed Rail Program

On December 6, 2011, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee held a hearing concerning the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail program, ostensibly to learn from the mistakes and lessons of the program’s implementation thus far.  Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and his fellow Republican committee members peppered Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood with skeptical questions regarding the scope, nature, and financing of President Obama’s plan to bring high-speed rail to the U.S.  Among the critics was Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA), who challenged the Secretary on not focusing federal aid on the Northeast Corridor, where both ridership and population density are high.  Secretary LaHood pushed back against Republican criticism, defending the Administration’s priorities and asserting U.S. DOT’s support for the program.  In response to Representative Shuster’s questions, the Secretary remarked: “we do believe in the Northeast Corridor, but we also believe in America.”  Secretary LaHood also took issue with Republicans’ criticism of federal funding for California’s high-speed rail project, which will be put under the T & I Committee’s microscope next week in a separate hearing.  Democratic committee members defended the Administration’s program and commended Secretary LaHood on his work.  Defending the Administration’s progress, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) remarked that “we’ve spent 70 years ignoring and destroying the rail system in this country.  We’re only in the second year of trying to rebuild it.”  Also of note, in his remarks, Chairman Mica again backed away from his previous suggestion of separating the Northeast Corridor from the rest of the national passenger rail system.