Congress has stripped future funding from President Obama's $10 billion high-speed rail initiative, after governors in Wisconin and Florida returned money for projects in those states. The current political climate has made it difficult to talk about investing in infrastructure. High-speed rail can spur economic growth in major cities, protect the environment and save energy – but a fresh approach is necessary to make it work in the U.S., according to a new report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers, the Lincoln Institute’s latest Policy Focus Report, applies 50 years of the international experience in high-speed rail to the U.S. context, and recommends prioritizing corridors that will succeed, such as the Northeast and California, and exploring alternative financing arrangements including public-private partnerships. The report, released today at an event one block from Boston’s South Station, also recommends that high-speed intercity stations should be in city centers with mixed-use development all around them, and have abundant connections to subway and commuter rail, allowing passengers to reach final destinations and broadening access to labor markets.
Around the world, nations in Asia and Europe have been building high-speed rail lines with trains capable of reaching 185 miles per hour and more. China alone has built 4,000 miles of track and has 300 million riders. In the U.S., spending on highways and aviation has dominated; the Obama administration proposed $10 billion in rail investments, but the initiative ran into political opposition. Nevertheless, California is moving ahead with a high-speed line, and the Boston-Washington corridor, including the Acela service, is one of the most-used.
High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers, by Petra Todorovich, director of America 2050, a joint venture project of the Lincoln Institute and the Regional Plan Association, and co-authors Dan Schned and Robert Lane, both from RPA, makes the following policy recommendations to make planning, constructing, and operating high-speed rail a success:
-- Strengthen the federal policy and management framework by expanding the federal role in planning and prioritizing high-speed rail corridors and working with the states to secure rights-of-way.
-- Focus initially on the Northeast Corridor and California, which offer the best opportunities for success, by addressing the management and financing challenges each region faces.
-- Establish new mechanisms for corridor management by developing legislation that enables the creation of public infrastructure corporations that can operate across state and national borders and attract private investment.
-- Plan for maximum land development benefits by coupling high-speed rail station investments with policies that encourage land development around station areas. Well-connected stations in center-city locations offer the greatest potential for urban revitalization.
-- Secure adequate and reliable funding by drawing on a full complement of potential federal, state, and private sources. Such sources could include increasing existing transportation related fees – such as a portion of the gas tax, or ticket surcharges --creating an infrastructure bank, forging public-private partnerships, and expanding existing credit assistance programs.
The report suggests a blend of top-down federal management and oversight, particularly in the planning phase, coupled with more engagement by states in the “megaregions,” like the Northeast, that high-speed corridors run through, and by the private sector.
The international experience with high-speed rail suggests that similar transportation, economic, environmental, and safety benefits would apply in American cities and regions. While it requires high upfront investment, high-speed rail promotes economic growth by improving market access, boosting productivity of knowledge workers, expanding labor markets, and attracting visitor spending. When planned thoughtfully with complementary investments in the public realm, high-speed rail can promote urban regeneration and attract commercial development, as shown in several European examples. High-speed rail has greater operating energy efficiency than competing modes and takes up less land than highways.