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Mica Drops Amtrak Privatization Plan In Call for Northeast Corridor HSR

1:56 PM PST on November 8, 2011

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica backed off his controversial plan to privatize passenger rail on the Northeast Corridor today, announcing at a press conference that reforming Amtrak would suffice.

Mica stood with New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler at a conference held by the US High Speed Rail Association to announce further support for true high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor. Mica has previously singled out the Boston-to-Washington corridor as the only proper location for high-speed rail (in contrast to the Obama Administration’s nationwide approach). Today, he urged that if anymore high-speed rail funds are returned to the federal government, they be disbursed to the northeast. “Any further money for high-speed rail needs to go solely to the Northeast Corridor,” he said.

Mica said his goal was to see travel times as fast as in Amtrak’s ambitious proposal, but within a decade, instead of the 30-year timeline Amtrak set out.

Given Mica’s previous support for privatizing the Northeast Corridor, today’s announcement raises questions about how a revitalized push for high-speed rail along the route would be structured. Amtrak will be involved, Mica promised. “If there wasn’t an Amtrak, we’d have to create an Amtrak,” Mica said twice today. “It just needs reform.” He stated that he is no longer asking for the route to be taken away from Amtrak and that he is willing to compromise with other members of Congress and Amtrak leadership.

Even so, Mica still referred to Amtrak as a “Soviet-style train system.” It’s clear that ideological divisions linger.

Nadler, an opponent of privatization, added that there is now widespread agreement that private capital needs to be included in plans for the Northeast — Amtrak itself is seeking private investment — and also agreement that Amtrak will continue to serve the corridor. “If we all agree that Amtrak has to be the main vehicle,” said Nadler, “we have a lot of room to talk and to compromise.”

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