Friday, December 11, 2009

Gov. Rendell on a Nat'l Infrastructure Bank for HSR

I: What’s your view on long-term funding for high speed rail? Would a NIB (National Infrastructure Bank) ensure that HSR projects are not just begun, but also completed?

R: The Obama administration deserves credit for designating funds in the stimulus bill for high speed rail. But none of these projects really deserve the title “high-speed rail” — rather, they are all mid-speed, or up to 120 miles an hour. But high speed in the modern world is more like 225 miles per hour. High speed rail is a good example of why we need a NIB. Right now TIGER grants can accept HSR applications, but once the stimulus goes away, there’s no vehicle for many states to apply for funding that’s wide in scope. If you’re building HSR in Ohio, you might do conventional track with high speed trains and electrification — but then you couldn’t run a high speed train through Pennsylvania out of Ohio, since PA isn’t using the same track. So there has to be some place for national management and funding of these projects.

Overall, HSR is a 10-year investment of somewhere between $700 billion and $1.3 trillion. States should share in some of that cost, but its a significant investment, there’s no ifs ands or buts about that. But other countries have done it. Pennsylvanians who go to Europe come back amazed at how advanced their rail system is, while we have nothing like it.

I: How should the $8 billion in stimulus money designated for high speed rail be used?

R: That $8 billion in funds is being used to increase speed on regional rail lines that have multi-state capacity. Take Pennsylvania. Amrak collaborated to put $74 million up and used $150 million to do work on our tracks to increase the speed of Harrisburg line. We cut the travel time down and increased ridership from 898,ooo people to around 1.2 million, just by lowering the speed 30 minutes. But you still couldn’t call what we have “high speed rail.”

I: Is it a better idea to adapt our current rail system to high speeds? Or do we need to start from scratch with HSR?

R: Adapting what we have is very very hard. The Acela is the closest thing we have right now to a high speed train in this country. It can reach speeds of up to 150 an hour, but only on a stretch of about 20 miles between New York and Washington are the tracks straight enough to reach this speed. If we built new straight tracks, we could do New York to D.C. in 1 hour and 35 minutes. Philadelphia to New York would be a 36-minute trip if we had straight tracks. This would let us end the Delta and U.S. Air shuttle. And if you could get rid of the shuttle, that would get rid of the cause of so many air traffic delays. Just imagine it!

*Thank you to the Infrastructurist for the interview

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