How that $240 Billion Proposal Will Jumpstart U.S. High-Speed Rail and Rebuild the American Economy
A plan released this month by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) offers a vision for creating a high-speed rail (HSR) network from coast to coast—and rebuilding the U.S. economy by boosting a wide range of industries.
Key policy proposals include replacing the current patchwork of antiquated federal rules with a set of “comprehensive, performance-based regulations”; incentivizing Class 1 railroads to make their rights-of-way available for HSR development; and investing heavily in electrified trains.
Under Moulton’s plan, Congress would authorize $205 billion in high-speed rail investments over 5 years—a “modest sum” relative to the funding levels for other transportation modes, as the proposal notes. Total investment in the network would amount to more than $240 billion, including federal non-matching funds. The money would be invested in “HSR planning, technology improvements, and development.” Sign the Alliance’s petition to Congress for better trains here.
The proposal identifies two tiers of high-speed trains. “Higher-speed trains” run from 110 to 186 m.p.h., while “high-speed trains” run at more than 186 m.p.h. Those tiers will be formalized in the House bill that Moulton is writing. It will also set ”federal HSR standards and regulations to ensure alignment of HSR development in the U.S.”
New regulations will eliminate the barriers that have blocked the progress of high-speed rail for decades. “Without basic federal standards or regulations for high-speed rail, every proposed project entails tremendous delays and regulatory costs,” the proposal notes. “We need to create a framework to partner with private freight railroads, whose rights-of-way (ROWs) are sometimes advantageous routes for development, while—critically—maintaining existing freight service and growth potential.”
Every region of the country—and a wide range of industries and firms—will benefit from the economic boost. Investment in high-speed rail “would exponentially increase job growth across a number of industries (e.g. construction, engineering, manufacturing) in the near and medium term, in addition to permanent jobs created for operations and maintenance,” the proposal notes.
Up to 1.16 million jobs would be created each year, according to analyses. For example, “212 companies in 32 states manufacture passenger rail cars and locomotives or major components and systems for these vehicles.” And “job creation does not end with production, as long-term maintenance and optimization requires a permanent staff for high-tech support. For every direct job in the railway supply sector, 4.2 jobs are supported in other industries.”
The train manufacturer Siemens is a case in point. Its Sacramento plant “is already the leading supplier of light rail in North America,” according to the proposal, and “HSR projects would not only result in California jobs; operations at Siemens manufacturing hubs in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon, and Mississippi would also grow, as well as their sub-suppliers in more than 20 states.”
In addition to creating jobs and building the foundation for a high-speed rail network, the proposal would promote smart, sustainable growth. As the document notes, “the primary reason why high-speed rail is such a strong economic driver compared to alternative investments is that it best supports 21st-century development in bustling urban centers [and] walkable downtowns even in much smaller cities and towns.”
The proposal cites dozens of rail projects ready for immediate investment, as identified by the American Public Transportation Association last year. “Because America has invested next to nothing in high-speed rail to date,” it observes, “we have a lot of low-hanging fruit in undeveloped projects with outsized economic returns.”
For example, a Pacific Northwest high-speed line running from Portland to Vancouver, at speeds of up to 225 m.ph., is in the early planning stages. New York has done planning for upgrading to “higher-speed rail” service in the corridor running from New York City to Niagara Falls. A private company, Texas Central, is planning to build a 240-mile line from Dallas to Houston; it will run on dedicated, electrified tracks at speeds of roughly 200 m.p.h. And phase one of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s Bay Area to L.A. line is ongoing; four segments are now in the final planning stages or under construction.
Low interest rates and the ease of “social distancing” on modern, spacious trains are key arguments for investing heavily in trains right now. “As we weigh alternatives, it is worth noting that modern high-speed trains allow passengers to sit much further apart than in airplanes or even in shared private automobiles,” the proposal observes. And “this is an unprecedented time to leverage low borrowing costs and high demand for federal stimulus to prioritize market-driven infrastructure investments that have the potential to rival the economic benefits of Eisenhower’s Interstate System over time.”