March 11, 2011

Panel Holds Hearing on Increasing Private Sector Participation in Passenger Rail Service

Washington, D.C.The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials today held a hearing on finding ways to encourage and increase private sector participation in passenger rail service.

The Subcommittee received testimony from the following witnesses:  The Honorable Joseph Szabo, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration; Mr. Stephen Gardner, Vice President of Policy and Development, Amtrak; Mr. Pat Simmons, Rail Division Director, North Carolina DOT; Mr. Stan Feinsod, Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators; Mr. John H. Broadley, John H. Broadley and Associates, P.C.; and Mr. Edward Wytkind, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of the Honorable Corrine Brown, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
Hearing On
“Finding Ways to Encourage and Increase Private Sector Participation in Passenger Rail Service”
March 11, 2011

Good morning.  I am pleased to be at this Subcommittee meeting today to receive testimony on “Finding Ways to Encourage and Increase Private Sector Participation in Passenger Rail Service.”

This hearing is very timely.  Just last week, we saw an example of a great passenger rail project with massive private sector participation die.  In fact, private companies from all over the world were interested in Florida’s high-speed rail project.  Yet, because our governor put politics before people Florida will no longer be the pioneer in high speed rail in America.  But we’re not going to let him stop us.  We will have high speed rail for the people in my home state.

Florida was awarded $2.4 billion in federal funds to develop high-speed rail, including 84 new miles of track and 240 planned miles of track. The first phase of this project would have connected two major tourist destinations, Orlando and Tampa.  Florida’s plan was going to give the United States high-speed rail that would finally compare with our European and Asian neighbors.  Trains were going to reach speeds of up to 168 mph on new track dedicated solely to high-speed rail.  Trains would have reduced trip time between Tampa and Orlando from 90 minutes by car to less than one hour.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that just last year the Florida Legislature and Governor approved it and appropriated money for this project, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott rejected the money claiming it is a waste of federal taxpayer dollars.  On the contrary, this is an example of Florida taxpayer’s federal dollars coming home to them.  Florida’s governor is much more interested in politics than in creating jobs or improving the transportation system for Florida residents.  His decision will do nothing to help reduce Florida’s 12% unemployment rate.

The high speed rail plan for Florida served as a perfect example of a successful public-private partnership that would have created tens of thousands of jobs, estimates from Florida’s DOT were as high as 48,000 and the business community estimated another 10,000 to 15,000 jobs as a result of economic development from the new rail line.

The high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando was going to be procured under a public- private partnership scheme covering design, construction, operations and maintenance.  Eight private sector consortiums were set to bid on the project, including fifty-five of the biggest private companies in transportation.  So here we are talking about encouraging private sector involvement, and we just witnessed one of the biggest projects collapse under a Republican governor who is more concerned about playing politics than looking after his people.

Now we will have no project in Florida, and this new Congress will attempt to destroy the rest of the high-speed intercity passenger rail program through the Continuing Resolution, a program that the private sector would benefit from and which would create good jobs in this country.

Today’s hearing will also focus on Section 214 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, which required the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to develop a program to contract-out, or privatize, two Amtrak routes to freight or commuter railroads that own infrastructure over which Amtrak operates.  I did not support this program, but I look forward to further discussing it with FRA and Amtrak.

But I want to ensure Members of this Committee are aware that each State, under existing law, has the ability to choose their passenger rail service operator.  No one is forcing these States to choose Amtrak.  If North Carolina, California, or Florida doesn’t want Amtrak; it doesn’t have to choose Amtrak as its passenger service provider.  Second, I have talked to each of the freight railroads about this program; they oppose it.  The railroads that own the infrastructure over which Amtrak currently operates are free to provide passenger rail service now if they want to; they own the lines.  But they don’t want to. That is why we created Amtrak 40 years ago, because the freight railroads wanted to be relieved of their legal obligation to operate unprofitable passenger rail service.

With that, I want to welcome today’s panelists and thank them for joining us.  I look forward to hearing their testimony.