Report Examines Whether High-Speed Rail Should Be Public, Private or Both

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The report comes at a time when Congress and state officials are debating future funding for high-speed rail, including upgrades to Amtrak’s 467-mile “Cascade Corridor” which connects Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Meanwhile, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure chair has proposed privatizing Amtrak with the hope of garnering private financing for new bullet trains along the Northeast. California is seeking private funds as part of a planned route connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“The report shows that private financing can be a supplement – not a substitute – for public commitments to support high-speed rail,” said WashPIRG advocate Steve Breaux. “In other nations the majority of support comes from the public sector. Overseas rail companies often have public ownership, with oversight from public participation on their board like a public utility or Amtrak.”

The report cautions that public-private partnerships in other countries have often run into trouble. When private financing has been used as a short-cut around public funding, taxpayers often end up paying dearly. According to the report, partnerships must have the highest levels of transparency, clear rules of accountability, and strong public capacity for monitoring and enforcing agreements.

President Obama has put forth the goal of linking 80 percent of the U.S. population via high-speed rail by 2035. Compared to the United States, other industrialized nations around the globe tend to be far ahead of the United States in developing high-speed rail and invest a far greater portion of Gross Domestic Product on infrastructure.

“While many in Congress and Olympia are having trouble finding money to invest in high-speed rail, they need to consider the costs of not moving forward,” said Breaux. “Without high-speed rail we will be more dependent on oil, and in many built-up areas expanding airports and adding more lanes to highways is either impossible or impractical.”