There is one location in America where, since the creation of Amtrak in the early 1970’s, intercity passenger rail has enjoyed considerable success. This region sports the type of high population density, urbanization, and congestion necessary for successful intercity passenger rail service. This region has the one existing “high speed” (relative to other Amtrak intercity train services, not to European or Japanese service) rail line in the nation. This location is the Northeast Corridor- the megalopolis stretching up the eastern seaboard from Washington DC to New York, and on to Boston.
Inexplicably, the NEC has not been named a designated high-speed rail corridor by the Obama-Biden administration. Rep. Mike Castle has been tirelessly lobbying for this designation and fighting for equity for the NEC. Our Vice President, however, has been strangely silent on the matter. That’s also perplexing. Perhaps Joe’s been busy badgering President Obama for a Wilkes-Barre to Scranton high-speed rail corridor?
By comparison to most Eastern Seaboard states, Florida has one of the premier intrastate — and interstate — highway systems in the region. Despite being hundreds of miles away from many destinations, they’re usually only a couple of hours away because of the high-speed highways.
Instead, Delaware receives $450,000 to study a proposed intercity passenger rail service in southern Delaware and possibly to Berlin, Md.
Rep. Mike Castle, who voted against the original stimulus legislation, was correct to express outrage over Delaware’s exclusion. Even Republican Florida Rep. John Mica, one of the rail experts in Congress, said the Northeast Corridor was “thrown overboard” by the Obama-Biden administration.
We agree and see no other reason shy of political expediency why, for instance, another area for new high-speed rail money is Sacramento-San Diego.
The viability of many of the ten designated high-speed rail corridors is amply documented by research- indeed, many of these projects have been on the drawing board, or under consideration, for years. Many of the routs parallel busy interstate highway corridors. Other’s however, are more spurious, and as the NJ correctly notes, politics is to blame. Indeed, not since Rep. Harley Staggers (he of the famous Staggers Act that deregulated freight rail service) forced the Hilltopper on the taxpaying public just so southwestern Virginia and West Virginia could have passenger rail service has there been a more blatant example of political meddling trumping common sense in the selection of rail routs and the distribution of funding.
As I’ve previously written here, I support the effort to develop new high-speed passenger rail corridors. It is a wise investment in developing our transportation infrastructure. While the allotted federal funds pale in comparison to the costs of finishing the proposed corridors, the emergence of high-speed rail service in the United States would spur new economic growth and efficiencies, ease congestion on our roads, and reduce pollution.
The value of this effort, however, is seriously undermined by the exclusion of our most successful intercity passenger rail line- the NEC. As Rep. John Mica (R- FL) has noted, “the Acela train averages 83 miles per hour from Washington, D.C., to New York City and is considered a joke compared to other systems around the world that operate between 150 mph to 180 mph… Shortchanging [the congested NEC] gives us no hope of relieving highway or air congestion.”
Hopefully Rep. Castle’s efforts to secure designated high-speed rail corridor status, and additional funding, for the NEC will bear fruit- that is the only sensible outcome.