CHANGING DIRECTION: Clinton Advocates High Speed Rail
--- EDITOR’S NOTE - This is one of a series of stories (AP) _ - EDITOR’S NOTE - This is one of a series of stories examining how President- elect Clinton intends to handle a variety of issues. With Graphic Logo By LAWRENCE L. KNUTSON Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - In the name of creating jobs and spurring the economy, President-elect Clinton has a chance to renew the American romance with passenger railroad trains.
But with the federal budget deficit casting a long shadow on the land, some railroaders wonder just how much a Clinton administration can spend to improve rail passenger service in the United States and to lace the country with high- speed trains like those now running in Europe and Japan.
Campaigning for the White House, Clinton repeatedly said that as president he would change the policy direction of the Bush administration and ″invest in a high-speed rail network between our cities.″
″I strongly support the development of high-speed rail because we need to ensure that we possess a transportation system that boosts American productivity and international competitiveness,″ Clinton said.
Clinton also may act to give Amtrak, the nation’s passenger railroad system, a measure of the financial stability it long has sought.
Amtrak receives limited government subsidies. It nearly lost them altogether in the early years of the Reagan administration. The Bush administration supported subsidies but pushed Amtrak to become self sufficient as quickly as possible.
Clinton takes a different approach.
″All industrial nations subsidize passenger rail,″ he said during the campaign. ″Passenger rail service creates jobs, conserves energy and provides an opportunity to avoid airport expansion.″
High-speed and passenger rail has a growing constituency in the United States as enthusiasm about super trains expands overseas. Many governors support high-speed rail links between major cities. And there is a large cheering section on Capitol Hill.
″I’m very optimistic about high-speed rail being a successful program in the Clinton administration,″ said Joseph Vranich, author of the book ″Super Trains″ and a leading advocate of introducing high-speed rail corridors to the United States.
How would a Clinton administration pay for high-speed rail?
Clinton has said he would dedicate $20 billion a year to improving the nation’s infrastructure - transportation and other public systems - and pay for it by tax increases on those making more than $200,000 a year.
Vranich wants the Clinton government to divert defense dollars to high- speed rail projects and to promote public-private partnerships by persuading Congress to make passenger rail improvement bonds tax exempt.
Amtrak is seeking congressional approval of a bill drafted by Rep. Al Swift, D-Wash., to shift to passenger rail a penny from the 2.5 cent gasoline tax now devoted to deficit reduction.
″That would put Amtrak on a roughly equal level with other modes of transportation,″ said Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black.
″We understand that the upcoming Clinton administration is looking for quick-start projects, and Amtrak certainly has plenty of those,″ Black said.
These include introducing 150 mph service along the corridor from Washington to Boston and, on an incremental basis, opening high-speed corridors elsewhere in the country.
″We have some reason for optimism about the future of rail passenger service based on President-elect Clinton’s frequent references to infrastructure and to high-speed rail as important projects for his administration,″ Black said.
″But Amtrak has to remain realistic and understand that another major priority stated by Governor Clinton is deficit reduction,″ Black said.
But Vranich said that if Clinton is serious about creating jobs, the most immediate thing he can do is to speed work on high-speed projects now in the planning stages in states such as Texas, Florida and California.
He said a decision by Clinton to accelerate the Amtrak Northeast corridor improvement project, which involves the complete electrification of the route, ″could put people to work right away.″
Vranich said that would have a ripple effect in the electrical supply industry and the railway supply industry.
″From one project alone the economic benefit is large,″ Vranich said.