John Appleton, The Republican
SPRINGFIELD - Federal transportation officials Friday applauded the six New England states and New York for working cooperatively as a region in planning for high speed rail systems that could shorten travel time between cities and relieve congestion from highways.
“As a region, you are doing very well here,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari said during the 2010 Northeast Rail Summit at MassMutual Center. “There are some states that are less interested in high speed rail.”
“A high speed rail corridor will sink or swim as a region,” Porcari said.
Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said, “Those who prepare the best will be the most successful.”
Porcari and Szabo met with congressmen, state transportation officials and others interested in improving rail service in New England and New York and ultimately linking a high speed rail system in the Northeast with systems in other regions of the country.
U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, said that the recognition of regional cooperation in this field was what prompted him to form a New England-New York Rail Caucus within the transportation subcommittee he chairs for the House Appropriations Committee.
“As a caucus, we intend to advocate for the highest priority project. We are going to serve as a reliable core group that will be supportive of the robust appropriations that will be needed,” Olver said, pointing out that there is no dedicated annual funding for railroad projects in the congressional budget process.
After decades of talk without funding for high speed rail systems in this country, there was $8 billion included by President Obama and Congress in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill.
Olver said that in addition to working cooperatively and successfully to land portions of that $8 billion for projects in the Northeast, he and other members of his caucus will work to block those in Congress who would pull the plug on future spending in this area.
“There is an increasingly vocal group of critics who would like to grab these moneys and stop the momentum,” Olver said.
Massachusetts received $70 million in stimulus money to improve the track along the Connecticut River from Springfield to Vermont, Connecticut received $40 million for work between New Haven and Massachusetts, and Vermont received $50 million for portions of its north-south tracks.
U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, said the inclusion of money for high speed rail projects in the stimulus funding that was proposed to jumpstart the economy is an example of an opportunity coming at a time of economic downturn that must not be neglected.
Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said improved rail travel in the Northeast can help revitalize the inner cores of older cities, which in turn will make these urban centers more attractive places for jobs and good housing.