Should high-speed rail focus on the northeast?By
When Amtrak unveiled its $117 billion plan to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor, I was highly skeptical of the project’s ever seeing the light of day. To build this corridor, nearly 500 miles long, would take 25 years and a ridiculous amount of commitment and cooperation from forces too skeptical of widespread rail expansion. It is, however, an idea that won’t and shouldn’t die.
When Mayor Bloomberg spoke of the region’s transportation crisis last week, he did single out only airports. “The Northeast is approaching a transportation crisis,” the mayor said at a House hearing in Grand Central. “Our airports are among the most clogged, our highways are among the most congested, and our train corridor is the most heavily used in the country. And all of that is just going to get worse, as the region’s population is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2050.”
Bloomberg isn’t the only one pushing for transportation expansion in the area, and many politicians representing both sides of the aisle up and down the corridor have begun to urge the Obama Administration to focus its high-speed rail investments in the northeast and along the Northeast Corridor. This is, after all, the densest region of the nation and the one that stands to benefit the most from high-speed rail.
During his testimony last week, the mayor criticized the government’s current investment plan. With projects in Florida, California and the Midwest garnering headlines, the Northeast Corridor has taken a backseat in Washington with only one percent of federal HSR funds coming our way. “That simply just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “What we need is a new approach to spending transportation money — one that is not dictated by politics, but based on economics.”
This area is in fact the biggest economic hub in the country, and without a solution to the congestion and transportation crisis, the U.S. economy could begin to feel a strain. As Crain’s New York noted, “The northeast corridor is an ideal place to invest in high-speed rail because its 50 million residents produce 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product.”
Others at the hearing, as Transportation Nation reported, took up Bloomberg’s calls. Kate Hinds wrote:
[Transportation Committee Chair John] Mica Mica had harsh words for Amtrak, saying that federally-funded rail provider is not the entity that will bring America to the promised land of a fast train that will bring passengers from New York to Washington in under two hours.
“Let me tell you — this is my 19th year of following Amtrak — (it will) never be capable of developing the corridor to its true high-speed potential,” he said. “The task is too complex and too large-scale, and can only be addressed with the help of private sector expertise…and also (Amtrak) will never get the funding for it with the plan they’ve currently proposed.”
…It seemed like everyone was on board with prioritizing Boston-to-Washington. As Governor Rendell said: “Making significant investments in the Northeast Corridor to achieve true high speed rail must be our number one priority. No other corridor in the country has the population density and ridership as well as the economic wherewithal to result in successful and likely profitable, high speed rail line….The Northeast Corridor will demonstrate the value of these investments to our entire nation.”
If anything is going to get this project off the ground, it must be a concerted effort from D.C., Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island too. High-speed rail requires immense space; for instance, it needs 16 miles of straight, flat track to reach 200 miles per hour, and routes must be as straight as possible. Considering the density in the areas, it’s a tall order indeed.
Again I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for this route to materialize, but much like addressing the airport problem should be a regional concern, so too should high-speed rail. It’s a part of the package of upgrades that must be made to keep the northeast running smoothly and to keep our economy competitive with nations currently investing heavily in this technology. It would be stimulus spending at its best, but does the political will exist to fund something of this magnitude?