New Administration focused on High-Speed Rail
Supporters of high-speed rail are keeping tabs on Joe Biden’s campaign promise to invest in infrastructure—and more specifically high-speed rail. High-speed rail advocates from the Pacific Northwest, the United States and around the world testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on Thursday, May 6. Testimony focused on how high-speed rail could translate to reduced congestion, new job opportunities and economic revitalization for communities. While detractors in congress pointed to a lack of any room in the current budget, as well as the specter of the troubled California High-Speed Rail Authority project, most advocates remain hopeful.
US Behind in International High-Speed Rail
Many countries around the world have embraced bullet trains to knit together their rural communities and reduce congestion in their metropolitan areas. While some in Congress are debating whether we should or shouldn’t start building high-speed rail lines in the United States, others are debating how much of a head start we continue to give other industrialized countries in high-speed rail.
Transportation Secretary Has a Vision for High-Speed Rail
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently shared his vision to see the United States “leading the world when it comes to access to high-speed rail.” Given the current state of passenger rail service in America, achieving that vision will be a Herculean task. America lags far behind Europe and Asia in high-speed rail development – only 33.9 miles (54.6 km) of the current US passenger rail network is capable of supporting train speeds over 150 mph.
Secretary Buttigieg is not the first American official to advocate for investment in high-speed passenger rail service. As far back as 1998, the US Transportation Secretary at the time, Rodney Slater, presented a high-speed rail plan and allocated more than $30 million to support state-sponsored high-speed rail projects. In 2009, then-Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood issued a policy paper calling for the construction of a high-speed rail network connecting major US cities, and Congress appropriated more than $8 billion for that purpose. Two years later, the Obama Administration announced an ambitious plan to make high-speed rail service available to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
An Opportunity for High-Speed Rail
Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group U.S. High Speed Rail Association, sees a real opportunity with the current administration to correct those failings. “Biden was, as vice president, a big rail supporter,” he said. “And so now that he’s back in the helm, we have a new opportunity to really push this big.”
President Biden Knows Trains
Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan, has earmarked some $80 billion to revive the dilapidated rail system in the US. The president has proposed corporate tax hikes to fund the massive project. President Joe Biden campaigned on sparking “the second great railroad revolution” in a car-centric nation where rail infrastructure has languished for decades. The president famously commuted daily from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, DC, during his time as a senator, logging millions of miles riding the rails and earning the nickname “Amtrak Joe.”
“He’s the first president in decades who’s routinely ridden trains and he understands just how functional they are,” Robert Yaro, the former president of New York’s Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit civic planning organization, and a professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, told ABC News. And that leaves many supporters of high-speed rail in America pinning their hopes on Amtrak Joe.
The Future is High-Speed Rail
“In the Northwest, the future is NOW for Cascadia High Speed Rail,” Says Brad Perkins, President/CEO of Cascadia High Speed Rail, LLC (CHSR). “Building a new multi-modal bridge across the Columbia River for vehicles, bullet and freight trains with a new 250 mph electrified high-speed rail corridor between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, OR is the climate justice answer for communities, long-distance travelers, and parcel freight movement. The CHSR corridor design guarantees 58 minute travel times between Portland and Seattle, 47 minutes between Seattle and Vancouver, BC and 45 minutes between Portland and Eugene.
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