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AUSTIN--A first-of-its-kind report released today examines whether high-speed rail should be public, private or both. The research report released by TexPIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries. In addition to outlining the promises and pitfalls, the report recommends ten principles to protect taxpayers and the public under private financing deals.
The report, High-Speed Rail: Public Private or Both? Assessing the Prospects, Promise and Pitfalls of Public-Private Partnerships comes at a time when Congress and state officials are debating future funding for high-speed rail. Meanwhile, the chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee 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 Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“The report shows that private financing can be a supplement but not a substitute for public support of high-speed rail,” said Melissa Cubria at TexPIRG. “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 a mixed record. When private financing has been a short cut around public investment, 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 Cubria. “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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