Witnesses say opportunities are limited for private investment in passenger rail

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., had a simple explanation why there is little partisan bickering on the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: “We like to build things.”

But a during a hearing on Thursday before the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on the future of Amtrak and high-speed rail, the bipartisan spirit showed strain. Senior Democrats, including Capuano, who is the ranking member of the subcommittee, took the opportunity to speak out against President Donald Trump's proposed cuts in transportation funding. No Republicans spoke in support of the president's plans.

“We're not making progress. In fact, the president has proposed to take us backwards,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the top-ranking Democrat on the transportation committee.

Trump's proposal cuts the Department of Transportation by $16.2 billion. It would terminate Amtrak's 15 intercity routes, and cut funding for future capital investment programs under the Federal Transit Administration.

Trump's is calling for a $1-trillion investment to rebuild America's infrastructure, 80 percent of it in private capital. According to Amtrak President Wick Moorman and John Porcari, acting executive director of Amtrak's Gateway Program, private investment has limited scope.

Gateway is a $24-billion, multi-phase project that includes replacement of an aging bridge in Newark, N.J., and two new tunnels under the Hudson River into New York Penn Station.

“I'm a great believer in private investment and the efficiency of the private sector in delivering projects,” Moorman said. “We will do everything we can to structure a private sector component [to Gateway], but at the end of the day, it just requires significant federal and state investment to get the job done.

Moorman added, “From a practical standpoint, the president's budget would effectively eliminate capital funding for the Northeast Corridor, and that's a bad thing.”

“Regardless of the delivery mechanism, whether it's design-bid-build, design-build, public-private partnership, [Gateway] could include private investment,” Porcari said. “In any event, a substantial federal investment component is required. In my experience, nationwide there is no project of national significance that doesn't require a federal funding investment.”

“Gateway is a great illustration of a very specific project where the … two most crucial elements would not be eligible for federal funding under the president's budget as proposed,” Porcari said.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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