Ideas

2016 contenders mixed on rail infrastructure spending

While the Democratic presidential candidates all support infrastructure investment, the future for rail under any of the GOP contenders is murkier. Where the 2016 hopefuls stand on passenger rail (excluding Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, who have done little to address the issue):

Jeb Bush

  • His record: Bush has long opposed rail development, including blocking Florida’s biggest rail project to date over voters’ approval.

  • What he’s said: “People thought it was ‘cool’ to have a really fast train running from Miami to Tampa. . . . No costs were discussed. The higher taxes that are necessary will dramatically change the dynamic.” (Los Angeles Times)

Hillary Clinton

  • Her record: Clinton has called for a national infrastructure bank for projects including roads, bridges, and railroads.

  • What she says: “One of the best ways to drive jobs and improve our nation’s competitiveness is to invest in infrastructure, including passenger rail. The proposal to bring rail from Boston to New Hampshire, for example, could create thousands of new jobs in the region.” (Clinton campaign)

John Kasich

Donald Trump

  • His record: After the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in May, Trump took to Twitter and declared himself “the only one” who can fix infrastructure, promising to get it done cheaper than any politician. His campaign has released no national transportation plan.

  • What he’s said: “I know how to build, pols only know how to talk!” (Twitter)

Marco Rubio

  • His record: Rubio has released a highway-focused transportation plan that would devolve power whenever possible and try to slash the federal gas tax by 80 percent. It doesn’t mention public transit, railroads, or regional planning. In Florida, he opposed a bullet train connecting Tampa and Orlando.

  • What he’s said: “Our enemies dream of a Greece-like day of reckoning for America as much as they do another 9/11. This national debt issue has to be confronted and solved.” (Lakeland Ledger)

Rand Paul

  • His record: Paul has repeatedly stood up to fellow Republicans in Congress to advocate for billions of dollars in infrastructure spending.

  • What he says: “Just last year, Amtrak announced a ridership increase which reflects a strong demand for passenger rail. It further proves that we should privatize Amtrak rather than subsidizing it at the expense of the taxpayer. Let’s allow the free market and innovative entrepreneurs to transform our railways into one of the best and most efficient systems in the world.” (Paul campaign)

Bernie Sanders

  • His record: Sanders introduced a $1 trillion infrastructure bill in January called the Rebuild America Act. This bill would specifically invest $15 billion a year to improve intercity passenger and freight rail, including high-speed rail.

  • What he’s said: “Our nation’s rail system is largely obsolete, even though our energy-efficient railroads move more freight than ever, and Amtrak’s ridership has never been higher.” (budget.senate.gov)

Chris Christie

  • His record: Christie may be more recently known for being ejected from the Acela’s quiet car, but New Jersey’s governor in 2010 famously canceled construction of a tunnel connecting his state to Manhattan, declaring the popular commuter rail project too costly.

  • What he’s said: “When they want to build a tunnel to the basement of Macy’s, and stick the New Jersey taxpayers with a bill of three-to-five billion dollars over — no matter how much the administration yells and screams, you have to say no.” (New York Times)

George Pataki

  • His record: Pataki has called for magnetic-levitation, or maglev, high-speed trains for the Northeast Corridor.

  • What he’s said: In the wake of the derailment in Philadelphia, he said, “Don’t just throw $10 billion more into Band-Aiding an Amtrak system.” (New York Times)

Martin O’Malley

  • His record: Under O’Malley, Maryland’s Department of Transportation partnered with Amtrak to study plans to improve the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel — a significant bottleneck for the Northeast Corridor due to age, height, speed, and other issues.

  • What he’s said: “We’re taking the first step toward upgrading rail traffic through this Civil War era tunnel, which will improve passenger rail service along the entire East Coast.” (Federal Railroad Administration and Maryland Department of Transportation)

Mike Huckabee

  • His record: After the Philadelphia derailment, Huckabee highlighted a proposal to privatize Amtrak. The former governor dubbed Amtrak a “money pit” and a classic example of wasteful, inefficient government programs.

  • What he’s said: “Whatever the solution is to preventing derailments like this one, it doesn’t lie in pouring even more tax money into a bottomless pit.” (Facebook)