Groups are fighting each other for the potential to get a portion of the $8 billion in stimulus funds allotted to high-speed rail, according to a recent New York Times article.
It’s a classic case of new versus old.
Seasoned groups like the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) are urging supporters of high-speed rail to build off the tracks laid over the years by groups that began to push for high-speed rail before it was all the rage.
Meanwhile, newcomers to the high-speed rail scene like the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association, a startup that formed in June and held its first conference last month in Washington, D.C., are arguing that the patchwork scheme is no way to go, instead advocating for a new nationwide passenger rail network that spans 17,000 miles and would be completed by 2030.
"Many are saying that we can't do it, that ... we have to do this incremental approach first, and then years later do the rest," said Andy Kuntz, the executive director and founder of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association. "Well, we're prepared to build it now."
These new lines would get up to an impressive 200 miles per hour, on par with France and Japan. The only catch is that the whole thing comes with a price tag of about $600 billion.
But Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy for the APTA, insists that plan is faulty in part because many states and regions have already spent years laying the foundation for proposals that seek federal funding.
"Not everything is going to be the 200 miles per hour U.S. High Speed Rail is advocating for," Guzzetti told the Times. "You can't tell people that have worked for years for consensus that their plans are wrong. Sometimes you will get to 200 [miles per hour] in incremental steps, sometimes you'll be perfectly well served at 110."
Rod Diridon, a board member at the California High-Speed Rail Authority and executive director of the congressionally created Mineta Transportation Institute, is also not a big fan of the newcomers, whom he termed “vultures” because he believes the new organizations are just in it for the money.
"We're seeing now organizations that have been created ... primarily for profit that are attempting to call themselves 'this high-speed rail' and 'this high-speed rail.' And that's something that costs energy,” he said.
In addition, Diridon argues that having too many groups with different plans for high-speed rail creates "confusion in Congress," and that it serves as a "distraction we cannot afford."
Though it’s still unclear who will be coming out on top in the high-speed rail debate, what is clear is that the new and old high-speed rail groups won’t be coming to a consensus anytime soon. As the Times reporter writes, “Nothing stirs passions for a massive public-works project like a wad of federal cash.”