STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - November 19, 2008)
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By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. LAUTENBERG, Mr. INOUYE, Mr. BROWN, Ms. STABENOW, Mrs. FEINSTEIN, Mr. DODD, Mr. CASEY, Mr. LIEBERMAN, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, Mrs. CLINTON, Mr. SCHUMER, MS. SNOWE, Mr. MENENDEZ, and Mr. CARPER):
S. 3700. A bill to encourage and support the development of high-speed passenger rail transportation in the United States, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, this has been a volatile time for our financial system and our economy. Hopefully, we will be able to agree on a short-term stimulus relief that will help families who are suffering and states meet their financial obligations.
Next, we need to create new jobs by updating our infrastructure to help respond to the current challenges to our economy. I believe a first-rate American rail system is a critical part of the efforts to create jobs and expand our economy. It will also help make our air cleaner, ease traffic congestion, save families' money and time, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
That is why today, Senator SPECTER and I are introducing the High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008. Senators LAUTENBERG, INOUYE, BROWN, STABENOW, FEINSTEIN, DODD, CASEY, LIEBERMAN, WHITEHOUSE, CLINTON, SCHUMER, SNOWE, and MENENDEZ are cosponsors. This legislation provides a bold new vision of how we approach transportation policy to expand our economy and keep up with changes in our society.
The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 builds upon the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 which reauthorizes Amtrak and authorizes $1.5 billion over a five-year period to finance the construction and equipment for 11 highspeed rail corridors. I want to thank Senator LAUTENBERG for his leadership on reauthorizing Amtrak and making investment in high-speed rail a priority.
Today, Amtrak's Acela train on the Northeast Corridor is capable of reaching 150 miles per hour. However, due to a lack of infrastructure improvements, the Acela train only travels at 150 miles per hour on an 18-mile stretch in Rhode Island and a 10-mile stretch in Massachusetts. We must make appropriate improvements to our railroad tracks and bridges to allow high speed rail to work properly.
While the U.S. is investing heavily in other forms of transportation, our investment in world class rail is dwarfed by other countries. For example, Germany's federal government gives its states $8.9 billion a year for rail projects, France spends twenty times more per capita on rail than the U.S., and the Ministry of Railways in China invested $19.6 billion in rail in the first half of 2008 alone. That is why we need to provide a constant source of funding for investment in high-speed rail. The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 will take our outdated and underfunded passenger rail system and transform it into a world class system.
The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 builds on the authorization of highspeed rail grants by providing billions of dollars in both tax exempt and tax credit bonds. It provides assistance for rail projects of various speeds. The bill creates the Office of High-Speed Passenger Rail to oversee the development of high-speed rail and provides a consistent source of funding. This office will ensure that we have the leadership to keep this mission on track.
High-speed rail is often the fastest and most reliable way to get from downtown to downtown between most cities 100-500 miles apart. High-speed rail can save up to an hour per trip when compared to air travel and reduces trip time by more than 50 percent compared to driving. The legislation provides $8 billion over a 6-year period for tax-exempt bonds which finance high-speed rail projects which reach a speed of at least 110 miles per hour. This speed is often most practical for corridors of less than 100 miles or for less travelled routes which cannot justify the investment into world class high-speed rail traveling at 150 miles per hour.
The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 also creates a new category of tax-credit bonds: qualified rail bonds. There are two types: super high-speed intercity rail facility bond and rail infrastructure bond. Super high-speed rail intercity facility bonds will encourage the development of true high-speed rail. The legislation provides $10 billion for these bonds over a six-year period. Rail projects that reach a speed of at least 150 miles per hour will be eligible for these bonds. This would help finance projects including the proposed California corridor and make needed improvements to the Northeast corridor.
Rail infrastructure bonds will fund projects approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and be part of a State's official rail plan. The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 provides $5.4 billion over a 6-year period for this type of bond. The Federal Rail Administration has already designated ten rail corridors that these bonds could help fund, including connecting the cities of the Midwest through Chicago, connecting the cities of the Northwest, connecting the major cities within Texas and Florida, and connecting all the cities up and down the East Coast. These are projects that are ready to go, but they need a source of financing.
The need for a bold shift in the way we approach transportation is clear. Traffic congestion continues to worsen in cities across the country, creating a $78 billion drain on the U.S. economy with 4.2 billion lost man hours of work and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel. Last year, domestic flight delays cost the economy $41 billion and consumed about 740 million additional gallons of jet fuel waiting on the ground. Passenger rail reduces congestion and is an effective alternative to highway and air transportation. Americans want alternatives--and we can deliver them.
We must focus on making the transportation sector part of the solution to global climate change. The transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of U.S. CO 2 emissions--and automobiles make up 60 percent of that. Public transportation is an essential part of the solution to global warming. According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation reduces CO 2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually and saves the average American household over $6,000 annually.
The demand for alternative forms of transportation is only growing. The number of people riding Amtrak surged by more than 13 percent in July 2008 from a year earlier--the most passengers carried in any month during Amtrak's 37 year history. Amtrak ridership set an all-time record for fiscal year 2008, achieving growth of 11 percent.
As we look towards economic stimulus legislation next year, we must rethink the approach we have taken towards mobility in this country. Countries around the world have realized the benefits of high-speed rail and continue to build out their systems as we fall farther and farther behind. For far too long, we have not made adequate investment in our infrastructure. We cannot let this pattern continue.
We have all heard the skeptics and cynics dismiss the idea of high-speed rail for decades, but due to high energy prices, increased passenger rail ridership, and the need to reduce greenhouse gasses, the time is ripe for a big change. Not only will this change create a modern and reliable transportation network in the Untied States, it will provide tens of thousands of good new jobs and help stimulate the sluggish economy.
I pledge to continue fighting for the development of a modern high-speed rail system connecting the major cities across America, and I ask all my colleagues to support making this vision a reality.