The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 28, 2011

Shuster backing high-speed rail

HARTFORD, Conn. — A key Republican congressman voiced strong support Friday for the region’s high-speed rail aspirations, saying the northeast corridor can be a “success story” that will encourage rail across the nation.

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, the new chairman of the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, acknowledged that some of his GOP colleagues are skeptical of spending federal money on high-speed rail. But he pledged to fight for the project, saying he believes it’s good for the country and could be profitable.

“It’s important to the nation that we develop high-speed rail and it should be right here in the northeast corridor because of the population density,” Shuster said.

“I think it’s very important, essential, that we have a success story because there’s other corridors across this country that I think high-speed rail is viable.

“But here in the northeast corridor, that’s where we should focus like a laser,” he said.

Shuster said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is also enthusiastic about high-speed rail in the northeast corridor and has asked for “robust” funding targets for rail projects in the federal highway reauthorization bill.

However, Shuster stressed that the state and federal governments need to partner with the private sector to help pay for the projects.

Shuster was the guest of honor at a forum held in Hartford and organized by Connecticut Rep. John Larson, co-chairman of the Northeast Rail Caucus. Members of both the Connecticut and Massachusetts congressional delegations, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state transportation officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont were on hand for the event.

The three states have been working together on a commuter rail line project that will run from New Haven to Hartford to Springfield, Mass., and eventually into Vermont and as far north as Montreal.

Karen Songhurst, a policy analyst at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said Amtrak stops eight miles shy of the Canadian border. She said the U.S. and Canada conduct an enormous amount of trade and that it makes sense to resume passenger rail travel. Amtrak announced in 1994 it was stopping the Montrealer for financial reasons.

Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., co-chairman of the northeast rail caucus, said the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line is the most important infrastructure project for the Connecticut River Valley.

“Today’s meeting demonstrates our strong regional commitment to working together to support the expansion of passenger and freight opportunities,” he said.

The New Haven-to-Springfield project is expected to cost $800 million, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. She said about $160 million in federal funds have already been approved, coupled with $280 million committed by the state of Connecticut. The remainder of the money could come from the federal highway bill and the federal transportation appropriations bill, she said.

“We’re not that far away from completion, but we’ve got to use everything that’s going to be available to us to make up the balance,” DeLauro said.

Malloy said while he doesn’t support borrowing money to pay for the state’s operating expenses, he believes it’s appropriate for the state to borrow money to invest in its infrastructure and pledged that Connecticut is ready to partner with the federal government to help find the necessary funds.

 

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