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Chicago, IL – A first-of-its-kind report released today examines whether high-speed rail should be public, private or both. The research report released by Illinois PIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries and the U.S. In addition to outlining the promise and pitfalls, the report recommends ten principles to protect taxpayers and the public interest under private financing deals.
The report comes at a time when Congress and state officials are debating future funding for high-speed rail including support for lines proposed as part of the Midwestern Regional Rail Initiative. 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 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“The report shows that private financing can be a supplement but not a substitute for public commitments to support high-speed rail,” said Brian Imus at Illinois PIRG. “In other nations the majority of support comes from the public sector. The rail companies overseas often have public ownership and the public 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. Partnerships must have the highest levels of transparency, clear rules of accountability, and strong public capacity for monitoring and enforcing agreements, says the report.
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 are having trouble finding money to invest in high-speed rail, they need to consider the costs of not moving forward,” said Imus. “Without high-speed rail, we will be more dependent on oil and will pay dearly to build more airport runways and ever-wider highways.”
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