US House stops high-speed rail money

November 17, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Senator Dick Durbin is blaming politics for what could be the end of one of President Obama's signature programs.

"Long after President Obama has served his second term...we're going to have high speed rail serving our state. So I hope people can take a long view. This isn't about the next election. It's the next generation of jobs," said Durbin.

The elimination of federal high speed rail funding was part of a broader compromise on a spending package to avoid a government shutdown, a measure which passed with bipartisan support. Passage is also expected in the U.S. Senate though Durbin hopes to find money elsewhere in the transportation budget.

"Let's keep Illinois as a center for transportation. And high-speed rail is key to that," said Durbin.

The president had requested $8 billion for the program in 2012 and $53 billion over six years. Much of those funds would have gone to Illinois for a network of 220 mile-an-hour rail lines connecting Chicago to St. Louis and other cities.

The money would have also paid for upgrades to many Amtrak lines, allowing for a speed increase from 80 to 110 miles-an-hour. Work on those Amtrak improvements has already begun, though with billions of dollars still in the pipeline those projects continue for now.

"People who want to be able to travel faster, more frequently, for less expense, they need to let their congressmen know that it's critical that we start investing at a very aggressive pace," said Rick Harnish, Midwest High Speed Rail Association.

But high-speed rail critics say it's a slow road to waste that is too expensive and impractical.

Opponents also argue the environmental benefits of high-speed rail will be offset as automakers are required to make more fuel efficient vehicles by 2025.

"Senator Durbin is leading the way for Illinois taxpayers to pay higher taxes in the future, because if he finds the money elsewhere, when the federal money runs out, Illinois taxpayers are going to have to make the payments," said John Tillman, Illinois Policy Institute.

For now, though, high-speed rail is money train appears stuck on the tracks.

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