US PIRG: How About High Speed Rail for Every Major City

HS.png(Image: U.S. PIRG)

Now that the Obama administration has
awarded
$8 billion in high-speed rail grants to more than two dozen
states, with $2.5 billion more coming soon, why not keep thinking big
when it comes to bullet-train expansion?

That’s the ethos of a new
report
released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group
(PIRG) calling for a New Deal-like public works juggernaut that would
eventually connect all major cities located within 100 and 500 miles of
each other. For a look at how such a system would remake the American
rail map, check out the image above.

"The first step in building the network is to set a national goal
with an ambitious time frame, just like we did for the Interstate
Highway System or getting to the moon," U.S. PIRG senior analyst Phineas
Baxandall wrote in a blog
post
unveiling the report. "We can link all our major cities
by 2050, if we set our minds to it."

Given the political wrangling over the deficit that continues to
paralyze Washington, however, it’s worth asking how an ambitious rail
program would be funded. The U.S. PIRG answers that question in several
ways: First, the group calls for a dedicated revenue stream for
inter-city passenger rail in the next long-term transportation bill,
with local investments matched by the federal government in the same
80:20 ratio that highway plans receive.

"By financing transportation projects equitably," the report’s
authors write, "states will be able to make rational transportation
decisions based on the needs of their residents, rather than on the
chances of securing a lucrative federal match."

Secondly, the U.S. PIRG aims to put government support for Amtrak
— often derided by
conservatives for its reliance on federal subsidies that also benefit
road projects — in perspective. When evaluated as a share of U.S. GDP,
government investment of passenger rail looks stunningly low compared
with other industrialized nations. The imbalance is visible in the chart
below:

chart_2.png(Chart:
U.S. PIRG)

From the U.S. PIRG report:

To begin to dig out of that hole, the federal government
should invest steadily increasing levels of funding in passenger rail.
We probably cannot hope to match the $300 billion China will be
investing in its high-speed rail system between now and 2020, but we
should endeavor to match the level of investment provided by other
industrialized nations, as a share of GDP, in their rail networks.

The group does not address the lingering debate over whether all
planned U.S. inter-city rail projects can truly be called "high-speed"
given that many
would achieve
maximum speeds little better than 110 miles per hour.
Still, its vision of finishing the job begun by the White House this
year is likely to fire up rail advocates and give helpful new tools to
local planners.

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