In The Public Interest: What’s Next for High-Speed Rail?

Phineas Baxandall of the Huffington Post brings us this article on the future of high-speed rail.  He asks, is the $8 billion in stimulus money for rail projects going to be the end of the line?  Constructing a national high-speed rail network will take at least a commitment of time and resources similar to what we put into building the interstate freeway system.  Building this network would create over 1.6 million new jobs, cut consumption, improve traffic for both air and highway travel and provide for local manufacturing jobs.  He says that we need to set a goal to have our major cities linked by rail by 2050, and gives ten principles to help achieve these goals:

  1. Invest enough to succeed – America must reverse the half-century-long trend of underinvestment in passenger rail by creating a reliable funding source and channeling the necessary resources.
  2. Maximize “bang for the buck” by investing in lines with the greatest ridership potential and using incremental, short-term improvements in passenger rail to help lay the groundwork for eventual faster high-speed service.
  3. Balance private investment with public safeguards – Harnessing private investment can help to deliver high-speed rail improvements, but only if the public retains control over planning and key decisions, and only if private deals operate with their books fully open to the public. Wherever possible, new rail lines should be built on publicly owned right of way.
  4. Invest to achieve full benefits by refusing to cut corners in new rail investments, particularly with regard to investments that can improve energy security, environmental performance, and safety.
  5. Build stations in the right places, where passengers have access to local public transit networks for completing their trip and where passenger rail can provide a catalyst for transit-oriented development.
  6. Assure transparency in all aspects of the decision-making process over passenger rail, including the expenditure of funds and contracting.
  7. Manage for performance by collecting and publicizing data on ridership, energy consumption, safety and other aspects of rail service, and setting concrete goals for achieving specific targets in each of these areas.
  8. Encourage domestic manufacturing to supply the equipment needed for the build-out of the nation’s passenger rail system and make America a leader.
  9. Set standards for high-speed rail equipment so that the nation can benefit from economies of scale. Integrated networks need standards.
  10. Encourage cooperation among states, and between states and the federal government.

The stimulus needs to be a beginning, not just an end in itself.  There is a pent-up demand for rail travel that can be seen in the densely settled areas along America’s coasts.  We need to link those and create a national network that is good enough for Americans.


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