LaHood Says DOT Positioned to Complete Rail Contracts

LaHood Says DOT Positioned to Complete Rail Contracts

The Department of Transportation is “well-positioned” to complete contract talks to launch slow-moving plans for passenger rail construction projects, and none of the 13 targeted projects are in danger of being lost, said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.

Last year’s economic stimulus package set aside $8 billion to jumpstart a high-speed rail program, with just over half that aimed at improving regular-speed Amtrak service using tracks owned by freight railroads and the rest as seed money for a couple of bullet trains.

The DOT unveiled its project list of passenger corridors in January, and has since seen little headway and disbursed only a small amount of the money.

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Part of the reason is the slow pace of negotiations for project implementing contracts between states and freight line executives, as they wrestle over issues including liability risks, performance guarantees and potential costs to freight operations. In a heated election season candidates in several states have criticized the Obama administration’s rail plan as a big government program and a waste of money.

When asked in a conference call with reporters if the DOT could be in danger of losing some of those projects and might have to reallocate some of the $8 billion to other corridors, LaHood was adamant. “Not at all,” he said.

Across the 13 regional corridors, “our folks are working with these regions to develop agreements. We’re very close to agreements,” LaHood said. “We’re well positioned to reach these agreements and get them signed and get on our way.”

He said the DOT would make some announcement next week on funds for Florida’s high speed rail program, a section of which was in the 13 selected corridors.

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.