WASHINGTON -- States would receive a total of $1.3 billion in grants over the next five years to help develop and construct high-speed rail systems under legislation approved Tuesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The High-Speed Rail Development Act of 1993, approved by a 26-to-16 vote, would include $1 billion to speed up existing passenger rail service and $300 million for development of high-speed rail technology, according to a committee staff member.

Under the plan, states would apply to the secretary of transportation to have specific passenger rail routes between cities classified as "designated corridors," according to the staff member.

To win the classification, states would have to demonstrate a willingness to upgrade a given passenger rail line so that it would achieve average speeds of at least 125 miles per hour, which is the plan's minimum definition of high-speed rail, the staff member said.

Once awarded the classification, the corridors would be eligible for federal grants.

States would be required to match federal funds under this program, according to the staff member. But he said that states would be permitted to use discretionary funds from other federal grants they might receive.

The plan sets no minimum requirement for the use of private funds, the staff member said. But a corridor's chances of being selected for federal funding increase with the availability of private funds, he noted.

In fiscal 1994, which begins Oct. 1, $15 million would be available to states for technology development and $125 million for upgrading rail lines. The amount available for upgrading would increase to $340 million by 1998.

The bill, which is unlikely to face a vote by the full House until after the August recess, was approved despite Republican opposition to a provision adding protections for labor unions. The provision includes a stipulation that railroad workers in the region where the line is located.

Opponents said the provision would needlessly inflate wages in areas that are highly unionized and subsequently drive up the costs of upgrading lines. They also said the provision would discourage states from participating in the program.

But the measure was retained when the committee, on a 24-to-19 party-line vote, rejected an amendment that would have deleted the provision.

A similar bill is awaiting action in the Senate by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's surface transportation subcommittee.

But a vote is unlikely until September at the earliest, according to a subcommittee staff member.

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