WASHINGTON — High-speed rail is the “newest gravy train” in Washington, D.C., with more than 50 public and private groups having registered in the last quarter to lobby for billions of dollars of federal aid — a threefold increase from a year ago, the Center for Public Integrity found in a recent investigation.
That number is probably much higher because many groups and individuals keep their lobbying efforts vague and do not specify high-speed rail in filings, the center said in a five-page article summarizing its findings from a probe that began in late spring.
The investigation involved the review of thousands of lobbying disclosure forms filed with Congress, as well as dozens of interviews and a search of congressional, governmental, and other records.
The lobbying frenzy has been stoked by $8 billion in stimulus funds that were made available for high-speed rail projects by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was enacted in February. The funds are being sought by applicants in at least 34 states that submitted proposals valued at $57 billion, according to the center.
The Federal Railroad Administration had planned to award grants during the summer, but delayed it to this winter after receiving so many applications.
More funds could be on the way, however. Congress is considering adding as much as $4 billion for high-speed rail in next year’s budget, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn, has talked about the need for another $50 billion after that, the center said.
The 50-plus groups lobbying on high-speed rail include a state, 14 cities and counties, labor unions such as the AFL-CIO, big freight railroads such as BNSF Railway, supply companies, transit agencies, and even the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., according to the center and Matthew Lewis, the author of the article.
The article did not include a list of the groups lobbying on high-speed rail. But Lewis said yesterday that the state is Pennsylvania and the cities and counties are Bellevue, Wash.; Boise, Idaho; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Mesa, Ariz.; Melbourne, Fla.; Killeen, Austin, Dallas, and Denton in Texas; and Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and Merced County in California. The group also included transit agencies in San Antonio and Salt Lake City, Lewis said.
Many of the governments are represented by the law and lobbying firms Patton Boggs LLP and Ball Janik, according to the article.
Several companies have hired former federal transportation officials and congressional staff from transportation committees. American Maglev Technology in Georgia, for example, hired a former aide to Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., chairwoman of the House Transportation subcommittee on railroads.
General Electric hired Linda Hall Daschle, the wife of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and previous deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to lobby on rail. The Daschles recently hosted a fundraiser for Oberstar’s political action committee, the center said. GE has entered into an agreement with China that would allow it to pursue American projects using Chinese rail technology.
The French conglomerate Alstom, which provided the design and some equipment for Amtrak’s Acela train, has hired a new in-house lobbyist and spent $1.6 million in lobbying fees this year, having never spent more than $1 million on such activities in previous years, according to the article.
But millions of dollars of funding for high-speed rail funding going back as far as 1965 has not produced much so far, according to the investigation. Only a single line exists from Washington, D.C., to Boston and its speeds average less than 80 miles per hour.
A report issued by the General Accountability Office earlier this year said that while governments have provided more than $1 billion for 11 high-speed rail proposals, some of the money was used to improve existing rail lines and none of it has resulted in high-speed rail.