High Speed Rail is Moving Forward in 2021

Its America’s turn to reap the benefits of high speed rail projects. 

By Andrew Kunz

As a new era emerges in America with the need to stimulate the economy, unite a divided nation, and enact major climate solutions, high speed rail is the perfect project at the right time. High speed rail (HSR) has proven to be a huge success all across the world for more than 50 years, and delivers high capacity, highly reliable transportation every day. It’s now America’s turn to benefit from this smart transportation technology.

High speed rail was first started in Japan in 1964, based around the idea to create a separate dedicated system engineered with specially built tracks with long straight-aways. With this, high speed was born.

The French started building their network in 1981 and pushed the speeds ever faster, breaking the world speed record in 2007 (357mph). Since then, the trains have gotten ever lighter, more efficient, and more comfortable to ride, while each nation’s networks continue to expand connecting to more cities.

Luckily, high speed rail has begun in America, and is moving forward in a number of regions.”

In one of the world’s most stunning infrastructure feats, China went from having no high speed rail, to having the largest network in the world in just 15 years. In just 9 of those years, they built 12,000 miles of new track!  Not only is the size of their new rail network impressive, but the speed at which they built the infrastructure is equally impressive – utilizing massive-scale crane systems and widespread prefabrication.

High speed rail is currently in operation in more than 20 countries (including the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan).  HSR is under construction in more than 10 countries (including China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, Spain, and Italy); and in development or planning in another 14 countries (including Qatar, Morocco, Iran, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Bangladesh, South Africa, India, Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil).

All the nations that have high speed rail reap the many benefits on a daily basis. High speed rail outperforms both flying and driving combined in every measure – capacity, mobility, convenience, speed, safety, efficiency, energy consumption, cost, profitability, national security, carbon footprint, physical footprint, economic development, smart growth, and more. High speed rail is a unique system in that it reduces carbon, congestion, costs, accidents, and energy consumption all at the same time!

Luckily, high speed rail has begun in America, and is moving forward in a number of regions. The program is set to grow substantially under a Biden administration, since he is a major supporter of rail having commuted by train every week to the U.S. Capital for decades during his long career as both a Senator and Vice President.

Thanks in large part to Biden and Obama’s first HSR stimulus in 2009, America’s first true high speed rail system is now under construction in California. The first phase is a large part of the main trunk line through the Central Valley – the first phase of the Los Angeles to San Francisco line. Construction is close to starting in Nevada and Texas on additional lines. Other slower speed new systems are operating and expanding in Florida, and a number of other projects are in the planning stages in various regions of the country including the Pacific NW, the Southeast, and the Northeast.

To help jump-start the program, USHSR just released the following 5 recommendations for the Biden administration to make the program a success. This will stimulate jobs and economic development in numerous regions across America helping unite the nation around an important goal of building 21st century transportation. The plan is as follows:

1) Create a new High Speed Rail Development Authority within USDOT to direct and coordinate the national program working with the states. This new Authority would be tasked with initiating new high speed rail projects, conducting route studies, filing for permits, assembling land, hiring contractors and consultants, and hiring concessionaires to operate the trains. This includes streamlining the approvals process by allowing simultaneous approvals, shortened timelines, and single agency approvals.

2) Select the nation’s top 5 high speed rail priority projects, designate them “Special Projects of National Significance” and fast-track each to completion with the full support of the federal government. 

3) Select the second tier projects and immediately fund and assist them into early works – planning, route studies, permits, land acquisition, and pre-construction works.

4) Coordinate closely on transit oriented development (TOD) planning with local cities and jurisdictions to maximize community and economic development opportunities that come with a new station.

TOD combines regional planning, city revitalization, suburban renewal, smart growth, and walkable neighborhoods. By directly coordinating the land development around high speed rail stations, the maximum community and real estate benefits can be delivered.

5) Work with airlines and airports to replace short-haul flights with high speed rail, and extend connections to major airports. Encourage partnerships with airlines on combined tickets for trips with part of the journey on a train and part on an airplane.

This begins to reshape the US domestic travel market that makes traveling easier, faster, and greener for the traveling public, while also benefiting the airlines and airports who can better utilize their equipment and spaces for longer distance flights.

Andrew Kunz is the President & CEO of the US High Speed Rail Association.

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