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GOP critic calls Joe Biden's $53 billion high-speed rail plan 'insanity'

Vice President Joe Biden proposes spending $53 billion on a national high-speed rail network, but important Republicans in the House are less than enthused.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / February 8, 2011

Vice President Joe Biden (r.) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (l.) walk to a train at Union Station in Washington Tuesday, heading to an event in Philadelphia to tout plans to improve the nation's high-speed rail infrastructure.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday proposed that the US government infuse $53 billion into a national high-speed rail network. The announcement was met immediately by deep skepticism from two House Republicans that could be crucial to the plan's success, raising questions about whether it can clear Capitol Hill.

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House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. John Mica (R) of Florida said previous administration grants to high-speed rail projects were a failure, producing "snail speed trains to nowhere." He called Amtrak a "Soviet-style train system" and said it "hijacked" nearly all the administration's rail projects.

Meanwhile, Railroads Subcommittee Chair Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania said Mr. Biden's plan was "insanity," adding: "Rail projects that are not economically sound will not 'win the future' " – coopting the slogan President Obama coined in his State of the Union address.

With Republicans controlling the House and dedicating themselves to deep budget cuts, any new spending proposed by the White House will face stiff scrutiny. But Congressman Shuster offers some hope of compromise. On Jan. 28 in Hartford, Conn., he proclaimed his support for expanding high-speed rail in the Northeast, backing a network that could stretch from Montreal to Washington, D.C.

"This is the most congested region in the country. High-speed rail here could be profitable," he said.

Biden's plan

According to the plan laid out Tuesday by Biden, the first step of the six-year plan would be to invest $8 billion to develop or improve three types of interconnected corridors:

  • Core express corridors would form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125 to 250 m.p.h or higher.
  • Regional corridors would lay the foundation for future high-speed service, with trains traveling between 90 to 125 m.p.h.
  • Emerging corridors would provide travelers with access to the larger national high-speed network and travel at as much as 90 m.p.h.

To backers, the benefits of the plan are twofold. First, it would give a much-needed boost to America's spending on infrastructure. And second, it would provide jobs for the economic recovery.

“If you look at the last 100 years, it has been large public-works projects which have pulled our nation out of every recession,” says Barry LePatner, author of “Too Big to Fall: America’s Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward.”

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