Via Streetsblog, I see Politico reporting that John Mica, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee, is stepping down and being replaced by Bill Shuster. I know nothing about Shuster, but fortunately Streetsblog did a couple of posts on him. From what I can glean, he’s basically in the same ballpark as Mica – loves infrastructure spending as long as it’s on highways (which sadly puts him to the left of many in his caucus!), terrible on bicycles and pedestrian safety, and lukewarm on rail so long as Amtrak gets “privatized” and Obama’s HSR projects never see the light of day.
Unsurprisingly, both these guys light up when discussing HSR in their own districts. Mica was supportive of the Florida HSR project, and Shuster speaks glowingly of the Keystone Service in his native Pennsylvania:
In a hearing early last year on the Northeast Corridor, Shuster called himself a “poster child” for good Amtrak service, saying he used to be “somebody that 20 years ago said, `I’ll never get out of my car again to go on the rails, I want to use my car with flexibility.’” But he was proven wrong by reliable and convenient service on the Keystone Corridor, which persuaded him to quit driving to Philadelphia from his district. And he urged his fellow Congress members to keep up with Europe and Asia on high-speed rail. “Our competition in the world is doing it,” he said. “We need to keep up with the competition.”
It will surprise no one to learn that the Keystone improvements Shuster lauds – where trains now hit a respectable 110 mph! – happened without privatizing Amtrak. Instead they happened through a “partnership between Amtrak, the Federal Transit Administration, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to bring high-speed rail to southeastern Pennsylvania.” (via the Wikipedia link above)
Perhaps the best way to bring high-speed rail to this country is to let a Republican representing each of the national HSR corridors have a turn chairing the transportation committee?
On a more sincere note, if one were looking for silver linings in this announcement, I’d zero in on this quote:
For the rest of the country, he says “frequency and reliability” are what matters for increasing ridership – not 150 mile speeds.
I can get down with that. While we need our big ambitious plans to continue, we also need to focus on some low-hanging fruit. Here along the Amtrak Cascades corridor we’ve had a fair amount of success in getting federal funds by focusing on things like “frequency and reliability.”