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Coles Calls for Stronger National Commitment to Rail Infrastructure
Conference President, Denver Mayor Join "Rail-Volution" in Denver

by Kevin McCarty
October 9, 2000

Conference President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles addressed more than 2,000 participants at a national rail conference in Denver, called "Rail-Volution," stating, "We need a national rail policy for America."

Speaking at a luncheon plenary session on October 5, Coles challenged federal policy-makers to work toward investment in rail infrastructure. "We worked hard on TEA-21. We worked hard on AIR-21. Why aren't we worrying just a hard on RAIL-21? Why isn't there a RAIL-21 in Congress?"

Emphasizing the need for increased investment in rail systems, he said, "We should not be afraid to have a revenue source to support rail in America. We do it for highways and aviation." Coles then inquired, "Why are we so driven to think just about aviation and highways?"

He also discussed the urgency of dealing with the growing demand for rail investment. "Mayors and county officials are coming together to address regional problems. Trains have to be part of that solution."

Calls for Federal/State Partnerships on Rail

Urging stronger federal and state partnerships in support of local and regional efforts on rail development, Coles singled out his own state. "My state is one of a few states where there is no - zero - funding for transit." He also pointed to the growing backlog of demand for federal capital dollars for "new rail starts," stating, "there are 400 or more projects that are ready to go. You know how long it will take with current funding commitments to do these projects?" Coles answered his question, "It will take 50 years."

Coles Wants Surplus to Fund Rail

He also talked about the Conference"s recent efforts to identify the elements of a national rail policy. He explained that the mayors are working on a plan that calls for $3 billion annually, stating, "This will make a difference in America." He outlined the Mayors' package, which he said would include increased funding for "new starts," rail modernization, station redevelopment and clean buses.

Acknowledging concerns by highway interests about increased funding for rail investment, Coles said, "We are not going to fight the endowment for highways. I am going to fight for those surplus dollars. I want to see these surplus funds used for these investments."

Coles emphasized the need to bring more balance and choice to our transportation systems, stating, "Today, people in Boise have no choice, other than their automobile." He also said, "We need federal and state partners to make the rail investments that need to be made."

In his remarks, he praised Amtrak CEO and President George Warrington for "his work to make Amtrak stronger." Coles also thanked the German Marshall Fund for their sponsorship of European study tours featuring the rail systems in building stronger communities. Coles, who participated in a 1999 trip, said, "they gave me a chance to look at what America will look like in the future."

In concluding his remarks, Coles told the audience of transportation professionals and community activists that "we, the mayors, are proud to be your partners. We will lead, we will follow, and we will guide to have the kind of family-oriented and community-oriented rail systems we are seeking. We must have better rails in America."

Webb Shares Vision for Denver

Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb, the Conference"s Immediate Past President, addressed the conference at the opening plenary session that morning, stating, "The critical challenge for the Denver area is preserving our way of life."

Webb told the participants, "My vision is to make Denver the commercial, transportation, entertainment and sports hub for the region and the state." He cited, "expansion of rapid rail transit as key to this effort."

Recognizing several of the mayors who were in the audience, Webb addressed Coles, reminding the audience that he had succeeded him as the Conference"s President. Webb said, "Mayor Coles has made part of his year as Conference President action on a Nation Rail Policy, to follow on the heels of TEA-21 and AIR-21." He also praised the Mayors' recent Leadership Meeting in Boise, noting its emphasis on Amtrak and rail system investment.

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