A new type of high-speed rail project could significantly improve American infrastructure and boost the economy, while slashing commute times
By ED RENDELL
*Shortly after taking office, President Donald J. Trump communicated to America’s 55 governors that he wanted them to send to the White House information about any “big, transformative infrastructure projects that they have planned in their state.” At the time, I thought this was a great idea. The American infrastructure was crumbling, and as the Building America’s Future report stated, “we were falling apart and falling behind” economically. It had been a long time since America had done a transformative infrastructure project.
Sadly, nine months later, there are virtually no transformative projects under way, with the possible exception of the high-speed rail projects in California and Texas, which were underway before the President took office. The reason for this is very simple – there is no federal money available to invest in any infrastructure project. Though many observers believe that President Trump should have started with infrastructure because it had the strongest likelihood of bipartisan support, it has been put on the back burner behind healthcare, immigration, and tax reform. It is not likely we will see any infrastructure investment this year, and it is questionable whether we will see federal investment at a level that could make a difference in a transformative infrastructure project.
If I were advising the President (and of course I’m not), I would tell him to put all his weight and leadership behind the project which has the strongest likelihood to be transformative and become a part of his legacy. That project is the development of a high-speed rail line that would eventually stretch from Washington D.C. to Boston. A large percentage of the nation’s population and economy are within 100 miles of where the rail line would go. As we have all heard over and over again, almost every developed nation in the world has high-speed rail that goes between 200 and 225 miles per hour. In the United States, our only existing high-speed line is the Acela, which at top speed can reach 150 miles per hour, but because of its curved tracked, averages a little more than 80 miles per hour.
Amtrak has a proposal which would cost well over $100 billion to reach the 200 miles per hour range, but it has little chance of becoming reality because federal funding at that level simply will never happen and Amtrak’s current tracks are used by too many other commuter and freight lines.
There is, however, an effort to bring Japanese Maglev technology to the Northeast corridor. Japan has developed this technology, and their trains are running at top speeds of 317 miles per hour over 47 miles of track. I was in Tokyo and had the opportunity to ride this train and it is simply amazing. When it reaches its maximum speed, because it is levitating on air, the ride is so smooth you can stand up and write a post card without your pen slipping an iota. When the Acela reaches its maximum speed of 150 miles per hour, trying to walk to the restroom is as dangerous as crossing the Grand Canyon on a high wire.
The best part of this project is that it has a feasible chance of becoming reality. The Japanese government is so interested in spreading its technology around the world that it has agreed to invest $5 billion in the first leg of the project that would go from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. At its rate of speed, a trip from Washington to New York could take 56 minutes, from Philadelphia to New York 24 minutes. The project has received tentative approval from the Federal Railway Administration, and it’s moving ahead on the environmental impact statement. With the projected population growth in the Northeast corridor by 2035, it is clear that I-95 will not be able to sustain the additional vehicular travel. The Maglev train can absorb a lot of this growth. The train would have 16 cars, and because it would be running on its own tunnels and is computerized, a train could depart every 10 minutes.
If you think this is far-fetched, it isn’t. Just think what a project like this could do for life in the Northeast; it would be truly transformative.
*Governor Rendell is a member of the Board of the company that has the right to use Japanese Maglev in America.
Edward G. Rendell, Pennsylvania’s 45th Governor, began a second term of office on January 16, 2007, following a landslide re-election victory. As Governor, Rendell served as chief executive of the nation’s 6th-most-populous state and oversaw a $27.5 billion budget. He currently serves as co-chair for Building America’s Future Educational Fund (BAF Ed Fund), a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation’s prosperity and quality of life.