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HSR, Amtrak See Continued Investment in Budget Proposal

Amtrak and high-speed rail projects across the U.S. could see a major boost under President Barack Obama’s five-year spending proposal introduced April 10.

According to the proposal, the U.S. Department of Transportation will see its budget increase to $76.6 billion in discretionary and mandatory budget spending, signaling a $4 billion increase from 2012. The proposal also includes $40 billion in “Fix-it-First” investments for improving existing infrastructure assets and $10 billion to help spur state and local innovation in infrastructure development, which will go a long way in upgrading Amtrak equipment and tracks.

“An important part of it is that it express a long-term vision, even beyond the five-year budget,” said Karen Hedlund, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Under the proposal, Obama is also calling for a five-year $40 billion rail reauthorization proposal to significantly improve intercity rail service. Hedlund said the $40 billion in funding will be used to enhance and invigorate current services, including further investment into the northeast corridor. Money will also go to states who currently have to pick up costs for smaller corridors.

Of $26 billion under the rubric of rail service improvements, $23 billion will go to passenger rail to perform upgrades to get lines up to 110 miles per hour, such as the planned between Chicago and Detroit, Hedlund said, or put into corridors where improvements for higher speed rail are taking place, such as in California where $3 billion has already been invested in upgrades.

Funding for the proposals will come from savings gained by the country from the ramping down of overseas military operations. According to federal documents, the near-term savings from reduced overseas operations will fully offset the long-term reauthorization proposals.

With the “Create Jobs Now” aspect of the budget, Obama proposes spending $50 billion on transportation investments in 2014 alone in order to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. The fund also allots $200 million to improve the resilience of transportation system subjected to extreme weather due to climate change.

Hedlund said improvement projects will be brought to the agency by state leaders and then money allotments will be determined.

“We want to make sure [the decisions] are driven by the market, not by politics,” she said.
While Obama is also calling for full funding of MAP-21 , it also calls for the establishment of a reserve fund in order to continue making improvements to surface transportation systems across the country.

Hedlund said that’s important because the agency wants to continue to make upgrades not only to enhance transportation modes for citizens, but also improve safety.

“Putting in the trust fund was absolutely critical,” Hedlund said. “It’s very, very important …because we’re going to need a sustainable source of funding for rail.”