Funds Steered to Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Prompt House Republican Criticism

House Republicans panned the Obama administration Monday for reallocating to Amtrak a large chunk of $2 billion for high-speed rail previously rejected by Florida.

Under the plan announced by the Transportation Department, Amtrak will receive $450 million for infrastructure improvements that will allow for faster trips and more capacity between Philadelphia and New York on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor.

The administration also said Monday that some of the money will be awarded for 22 projects in 15 states across the nation -- 21 of which benefit Amtrak, according to Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John L. Mica.

Mica, R-Fla., reiterated earlier criticism that the approach is "piecemeal," spreading limited funds too thinly and devoting money to slower-speed projects while it "allowed Amtrak to hijack 21 of the 22 grants." As he has in the past, Mica referred to Amtrak as a "Soviet-style bureaucracy."

"We need to bring in the private sector to finance, design, build, operate and maintain true high-speed service in the Northeast Corridor if we are going to have any chance of success," Mica said.

LaHood's ViewAnticipating Mica's criticism, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview earlier Monday with Bloomberg TV that "Amtrak is not a Soviet-like system. . . . And that's why we're making investments."

"Amtrak made money last year," he said. "Ridership is up on Amtrak. They're providing a good service -- a service people can afford. And we want to give them some new infrastructure to get trains to higher speeds. They know how to deliver people on trains."

Added together, Northeast Corridor projects are the biggest share of the reallocated funds -- $795 million to upgrade some of the most heavily used segments of the network between Boston and Washington. The Transportation Department says the investment will help increase speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on some segments, reduce delays and add more seats.

"These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and railcars," said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

California will receive $300 million to help build out a line between San Francisco and Los Angeles that is envisioned to carry trains at 220 mph.

Midwest states received $404.1 million, with Illinois ($186.3 million) and Michigan ($196.5 million) receiving the bulk.

Source: CQ Today Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill. ©2011 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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