House Member Releases Plan to Invest $240 Billion in High-Speed Rail
Rep. Seth Moulton (D- MA) has released a proposal for investing nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in a nationwide high-speed rail network.
The plan would create an estimated 2.6 million jobs over five years and “let the free market thrive in transportation as it does elsewhere in the American economy, [giving] a new generation of Americans, competing in a new world, the options and efficiencies we demand.”
Moulton, who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, pointed to the lack of train options as a major competitive disadvantage for the U.S. at a moment when other nations are investing heavily in high-speed rail.
In China, for example, business travelers regularly ride high-speed lines that cover the distance from Chicago to Atlanta, the plan notes, “with more frequent service, far nicer accommodations, no weather disruptions, and much more time aboard rather than in terminal lines or security checks.” Major stops along a Chicago to Atlanta line would include Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Chattanooga, and it would offer hourly service.
Moulton notes that the cost of the U.S. status quo—where cars and airplanes monopolize funding—“is hundreds of billions of dollars of added costs to our economy—from lost time and business due to historic traffic congestion, to environmental degradation and land waste on a massive scale—as well as hundreds of billions in lost economic opportunity.”
The proposal was in the works well before the current crisis hit, but—as Wired notes in a piece on Moulton’s plan—the pandemic is “a moment to rethink the status quo of transportation and development dominated by the car. Why not more bike lanes? Why not more scooters? Why not high-speed rail?”
Moulton’s proposal adds to the growing possibilities in Congress for transformative investments and a reimagining of our transportation system. Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would authorize $32 billion in annual spending on high-speed rail through 2024, with a focus on electrified trains. The Fast Act Reauthorization, which sets federal spending levels and priorities for transportation, must be renewed soon. And the appropriations bill that Congress passes each year (usually in the fall) will set funding levels for Amtrak and other transportation systems. Infrastructure might also be a major focus of pandemic-related stimulus packages. Sign the Alliance’s petition to Congress here.
A press release from Moulton’s office described him as “a leading national advocate for high-speed and commuter rail since he arrived in Congress five years ago.” He was an early supporter of a plan to improve commuter-rail service in Boston, and he commissioned a study of the “true cost and the hidden amount that [Massachusetts] spends subsidizing its gridlocked roads.”
Expanding economic opportunities and networks across the nation is a major theme of the plan. “Consider how the Houston - Dallas market would expand if you could get downtown-to-downtown in 90 minutes, every fifteen minutes,” it observes. “Or what New York - Chicago travel would look like without weather delays, ever. Or how much more connected Tulsa and Oklahoma City would be on a high-speed line with hourly service between Dallas and Kansas City.”
China has roughly 24,000 miles of high-speed lines already and is expected to invest $46 billion in high-speed rail over the coming decade, putting it at the cutting edge of a global trend. “There is a reason why nearly every other developed country in the world—and several developing ones—consistently choose high-speed rail over highway and airport investments for corridors 750 miles or less, which accounts for most major city pairs throughout the United States,” the plan notes.
“We cannot rely on the technologies of the past. In the 1950s, we didn’t just add lanes to our state highways or make dirt runways longer; we built interstates and international airports. Today, relying solely on highways while the rest of the world speeds past us in high-speed trains would be akin to investing billions in laying more copper telephone lines while the rest of the world installs fiber optics.”