The Florida dilemma over high-speed rail is resolved. Sunshine State Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has finally rejected $2.4 billion in federal dollars for high-speed rail, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood immediately made that money available to other states on a competitive basis. LaHood also upped the ante on the contest by designating the Northeast Corridor as an official high-speed rail corridor, making it eligible for significantly more federal funds for high-speed and intercity passenger-rail programs. This should be good news to the founders of the congressional Bi-Cameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger-Rail Caucus -- Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who both hail from the heavily train-trafficked Northeast.
The new designation for the Northeast Corridor could allow Amtrak to apply for some of the federal grant money, which is likely to raise eyebrows among some Republicans. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., say Amtrak is a "Soviet-style passenger rail service" that is too heavily subsidized by taxpayers. The committee Republicans are calling on cutting federal funding for Amtrak and allowing other private-sector rail companies to compete with Amtrak on its "money-losing" routes.
Does it make sense to designate the Northeast Corridor as a high-speed rail corridor? How does the label change the merits for a high-speed rail competition? Is this just another iteration of an age-old fight over Amtrak? If Amtrak is able to get federal money, does that change the general understanding of the definition of high-speed rail? What is so unique about the Northeast that makes it appear more rail-friendly?