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Lawmaker: Amtrak can keep Northeast Corridor line

Lawmaker: Amtrak can keep Northeast Corridor line

November 9th, 2011 by CHRIS HAWLEY, Associated Press in News

NEW YORK (AP) - The chairman of the House Transportation Committee says he'll back off his proposal that the government privatize the Washington-to-Boston train line that is Amtrak's crown jewel.

U.S. Rep. John Mica, a longtime critic of Amtrak, had wanted to sell the Northeast Corridor route to the highest bidder. But on Tuesday, he said fellow members of Congress had balked at the plan and it was holding up efforts to build a new high-speed rail line along the route.

"I'm willing to compromise," said Mica, R-Fla. "I could probably pass just about anything in committee, but I want to make something happen."

Mica was in New York on Tuesday to speak to the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, a trade group that wants to build trains capable of reaching 225 mph like the ones in Europe and Asia. Amtrak's Acela trains can reach 150 mph, but only along a 12-mile stretch.

Mica believes the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor is the best place to put a high-speed train line. He pledged he would try to funnel money from any other failed rail projects into it.

A report last week said California's plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco could cost $98.5 billion. That's twice as much as originally budgeted.

Mica said he plans to hold a hearing in early December to look at whether the California plan and others are still feasible.

Mica has said a private company could probably operate the Northeast Corridor more efficiently than Amtrak. But on Tuesday, he called his privatization proposal a bluff.

"We did put a proposal out there that we knew would be tough for them to accept, but that's what you do sometimes in the legislative process to get (lawmakers) to the point where they'll be willing to work with you to make something happen," he said.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said he welcomed the change.

"There is widespread agreement that some sort of private capital can be brought into this," Nadler said of the high-speed rail project. "But I think, I hope, we have agreement that Amtrak has to be the main vehicle for it."