The White House unveiled plans to spend $53 billion over the next six years on bringing high-speed rail service to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years, though House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica and Railroads Subcommittee chairman Bill Shuster expressed reservations over its future benefit.
Vice President Joe Biden said the President's proposal to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network will help lay a new foundation for the nation's economic opportunity, ease congestion, generate jobs, and competitiveness.
As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure, said Biden. As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that.
The goal is to build high-speed and intercity passenger rail capacity equivalent to 1,900 miles of new highway, but with trains zipping along at up to 220 miles per hour in the nation's most densely populated corridors. The proposal also includes expanding faster rail service to emerging and regional corridors, so that 80 percent of Americans have access to these core high-speed rail lines.
But why high-speed rail? Why not build more highways and airports?
According to Tobin Marcus, the Deputy Economic Policy Advisor in the Office of the Vice President, building just one mile of one lane of highway costs $40 to $50 million in densely populated regions like the Northeast Corridor, while adding a single extra runway at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport recently cost $1.3 billion.
Worse yet, many of the airports in our most congested areas are surrounded by development and can’t be expanded, which makes it almost impossible to add more flights in and out of cities like New York, Marcus wrote in a White House blog post.
Marcus says beyond the dollar costs of highways and airports, their environmental cost in terms of increased carbon emissions have to be considered. An Amtrak train between Philadelphia and New York can carry up to 500 passengers, who would use more than 1,900 gallons of gas if they drove instead. That is roughly double the energy used by that train, but most of it comes from foreign oil.
The Acela Express - the fastest train in the Northeast Corridor - takes 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to New York City. That’s only about 45 minutes faster than in the 1940s. We want to change that. Through our investments in high-speed rail, we’re hoping to cut the time for that trip to just 96 minutes, Marcus wrote.
As the first step in this comprehensive six-year plan, the President’s Budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion, focusing on developing or improving three types of interconnected corridors: Core Express corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher. Regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service. Emerging corridors with trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.
Initial investments to the construction of a high-speed rail network totaled more than $10.5 billion in the last two years, of which $8 billion comes from the stimulus plan approved in 2009 and $2.5 billion from federal budget last year.
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) applauded the Obama Administration for its continued leadership in creating a high-speed rail network in the United States.
According to APTA, public transportation is a proven job creator as every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs. Also, for every $1 invested in public transit, $4 is generated in economic returns.
But House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica said, This (new rail spending plan) is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio. Mica pointed to the first $10.5 billion in Administration rail grants. What the Administration touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere and Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, most of them costly and some already rejected by state agencies.
Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the Administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects.
Bill Shuster echoed similar view saying, “The Administration continues to fail in attracting private investment, capital and the experience to properly develop and cost-effectively operate true high-speed rail. They have also ignored my provision in law that calls for competition on money-losing Amtrak routes.
If the Obama Administration is serious about high-speed rail, they should stop throwing money at projects in the same failed manner, Shuster said. Rail projects that are not economically sound will not ‘win the future.’
It just prolongs the inevitable by subsidizing a failed Amtrak monopoly that has never made a profit or even broken even. Government won’t develop American high-speed rail. Private investment and a competitive market will, Shuster said.