High Speed Rail Reference List: 2009 (2)
High Speed Passenger Rail: Developing Viable High Speed Rail Projects under the Recovery Act and Beyond. Testimony, (2009), 8p.
Abstract - This testimony by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) discusses funding for high speed and other intercity passenger rail projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act). The $8 billion that the Recovery Act provided for these projects has attracted great attention from states and others who look to develop or improve intercity passenger rail service across the country. Proponents see these projects as serving an important transportation role, by moving people quickly and safely, reducing highway and airport congestion, and being environmentally friendly. While GAO has found that the potential benefits of high speed and intercity passenger rail projects are many, these projects—both here and abroad—are costly, take years to develop and build, and require substantial up-front public investment as well as potentially long-term operating subsidies. This statement focuses on (1) some principles that could guide the effective use of these Recovery Act funds, (2) some challenges that states face in establishing high speed and other intercity passenger rail service, and (3) the nature of our ongoing work on Recovery Act high speed rail projects. Several principles could guide the effective use of the Recovery Act funds and any future federal investments in high speed and other intercity passenger rail. These principles include establishing clear federal objectives and stakeholder roles, clearly identifying expected outcomes, basing decisions on reliable ridership and other forecasts, and reexamining how intercity passenger rail service fits in with other federal surface transportation programs. In addition, determining which, if any, high speed rail projects may eventually be economically viable will depend on an accurate determination of such factors as ridership potential, costs, and public benefits. These projects also face many challenges, such as securing the significant up-front investment for construction costs; sustaining public, political, and financial support; and resolving outstanding liability issues. GAO's ongoing work in this area will focus on determining how states that have recently initiated passenger rail service have met these challenges, how the rail industry can accommodate this increased investment, and how the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is planning to oversee the use of Recovery Act funds for intercity passenger rail service. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10162t.pdf