High-Speed Rail: Now or Later

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In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), $8 billion has been set aside for the development of a high-speed rail (HSR) network.  And, additional money is on its way in the form of a provision by Congress providing $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2010 and a request by the President for another $1 billion for high-speed rail for fiscal year 2011.

HSR – defined by travel of at least 150 miles per hour which would be specifically devoted to connecting areas 100 to 600 miles apart – would be a huge asset to this country in terms of road and air congestion mitigation, air quality and other environmental concerns, as well as being a huge driver for economic development and job creation.

But all these benefits won’t come easily.

Critics see HSR as an investment that won’t deliver on its promises.  Currently premiums for high-speed rail travel (in the very few places it exists) are very high and are expected to impact future ridership.  Additionally, the up-front construction costs are immense.  States and locals would need to procure funding outside of federal sources because the money set aside by ARRA and Congress so far is just a drop on the bucket.  And considering the nation’s current economic situation, is it smart to encourage governments to be spending on HSR now?

The answer is yes!  HSR must be viewed as a long-term investment; not a quick fix to some of the serious transportation challenges we face today.  Delaying any investment now would just increase costs later.  And it’s not just about looking for ways to move people and goods more efficiently through the transportation system.  It’s about creating a stronger infrastructure and leading this country to a better globally competitive position fiscally, environmentally, and socially.

No one said it would be easy and it certainly won’t be cheap.  But the longer we wait, the further it’s going to push us behind.