In 2008, Congress passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) which, among other things, established a high-speed rail corridor development program. To be eligible for federal funding under the program, projects must be located in designated high-speed rail corridors.
Nationally, there are 11 designated high-speed rail corridors. Amazingly, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) is not one of them and states located along the NEC cannot compete for project funding under the PRIIA. As a result, the NEC is missing out on money for badly needed infrastructural improvements and upgrades.
This state of affairs is amazing for several reasons. First, the NEC is the location where intercity passenger rail has been most successful since the creation of Amtrak in the early 1970’s. This isn’t surprising- to be successful, intercity rail service depends on high population densities. Unlike many locations in America, the area through which NEC passes has population density, urbanization, and congestion, at many points akin to European levels. As such, it is probably the best location for a true high-speed rail line in the entire country. Second, the NEC is the location of America’s sole existing “higher speed” passenger rail service- the Acela. Third, improvements to the NEC would benefit rail passengers now, not in some speculative future because more passengers travel on the NEC annually than on all other passenger rail lines in America combined!
There is a very old military axiom- reinforce success. The NEC is our most successful, and most utilized, passenger rail corridor, located in the region most suitable for high-speed rail. Let’s reinforce that success through equitable funding for rail improvement projects that will improve service on this route. Let’s invest in that success, and make the NEC the flagship high-speed rail corridor project in the nation. Designated high-speed rail corridor status for the NEC is the only sensible course of action here, and one which will benefit rail passengers in Delaware, and throughout the region.
Thankfully, Congressman Mike Castle is taking action to remedy this situation and to ensure equitable treatment for America’s premier passenger rail route. Congressman Castle is proposing legislation to amend the PRIIA and designate the NEC as a “high-speed rail corridor.” This would permit NEC projects to compete for funding on an equal footing with projects in other designated corridors across the nation, and would ensure that our region received an appropriate share of federal transportation funding.
Congressman Castle is holding a press conference at the Wilmington Amtrak station on Monday, March 1 at 11:15 a.m. to discuss the proposed legislation. I highly encourage readers interested in this issue to attend.