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Intercity passenger rail : Congress faces critical decisions in developing a national policy
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    This document is the statement of JayEtta Z. Hecker, Director, Physical Infrastructure. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Railroads, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives on the future of intercity passenger rail. Intercity passenger rail in the United States is at a critical juncture. The current approach to intercity passenger rail is not likely sustainable. Given Amtrak's worsening financial condition and opportunities for intercity passenger rail to play a larger role in our nation's transportation system, there is growing agreement that the mission, funding, and structure of the current approach to providing intercity passenger rail needs to be changed. Proposals to revise how intercity passenger rail service is delivered and financed are emerging. Intercity passenger rail has the potential to generate benefits to society by complementing other more heavily used modes of transportation in markets in which rail transport can be competitive. These potential benefits include stemming the increase in air and highway congestion, reducing pollution caused by automobiles, reducing fuel consumption and energy dependency, and increasing safety. Regarding costs, intercity passenger rail systems, like other intercity transportation systems, are expensive. Amtrak has called for $30 billion in federal capital support over 20 years to upgrade its operations and to invest as seed money in high-speed rail corridors. Amtrak also estimates that the cost to fully develop the 10 federally designated high-speed rail corridors and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor could exceed $50 billion over 20 years. Given the uneven potential for generating social benefits and large costs of intercity passenger rail, Congress will need a framework for determining if and how intercity passenger rail fits into the nation's transportation system, and what level of federal investment should be made in light of other competing national priorities. Key initial steps in this framework could include (1) establishing clear, non-conflicting goals for federal support of intercity passenger rail systems; (2) establishing the roles of governmental and private entities and developing funding approaches that focus on and provide incentives for results and accountability; and (3) ensuring that the strategies developed address stake holder interests, to the extent possible, and limit unintended consequences.

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