House to Review High Speed Rail Program Mistakes and Lessons Learned

Rep. Mica’s committee will review the progress of the HSIPR program. Image – Amtrak coming down East Saugatuck hill, Mich. Jim Thias, Flickr

This Thursday the House Transportation Committee will review the progress of the $10 billion High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The hearing is titled “Update on the High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned.”

The committee will hear from two service providers, Paula Hammond (Washington State DOT Secretary, and Chair of the AASHTO HSIPR Leadership Group, Chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition) and The Honorable Ann L. Schneider (Illinois Secretary Of Transportation).  Hammond has been a staunch advocate for improving and expanding the state-sponsored Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service, which operates in the Oregon-Washington-British Columbia corridor. Amtrak Cascades ridership has increased every year since its inception.

The committee will also hear from representatives of the USDOT Inspector General’s office, the Government Accountability office, and USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood.

The briefing memo for Members and staff indicate the hearing “will provide an opportunity to examine FRA’ s management of the program, consider where projects are in the process, and discuss means of improving the program now that a majority of the funds have been obligated.”

Here are some key points from the memo:

Background and status of HSIPR program:

  • $10.1 billion has been appropriated for HSIPR since 2008.
  • 151 were authorized, from construction to planning
  • Most projects are occurring on tracks owned by freight railroads
  • $9.934 billion has been obligated, for 148 projects
  • ARRA funds ($8 billion of the total) must be spent before October 2017
  • Six projects are completed
  • Thirty-one projects are underway
  • Thirteen projects are scheduled to begin within six months

Concerns about HSIPR program, identified by USDOT Inspector General:

  • Transparency about project selection
  • Insufficient guidance for staff and grantees re complying with grant policies and procedures
  • Inadequate mechanisms to assess program and grantee performance
  • Lack of comprehensive training program for HSIPR grants staff

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will provide an update of its review of the California High-Speed Rail Project. It has been awarded $3.897 billion in HSIPR funds. At the request of many Congressional Members, including a number from California, the GAO’s is reviewing (I) the reliability of the project’s costs and financing sources; (2) reasonableness of the passenger traffic and revenue estimates; and (3) comprehensiveness of estimates of economic impacts, including those on adjacent landowners, associated with the project.  The report is expected to be completed by February 2013.

Click here to watch the hearing live on Thursday at 9:30am (ET)

Click here later in the week to read the prepared testimony of speakers.