Northeast Corridor shut out of high speed rail funds

The news today that the Northeast Corridor (think your Amtrak trip from Boston to New York to Washington DC) would be shut out of the first round of high-speed rail funding is very bad news and a missed opportunity. And not just bad news for the Northeast Corridor, though certainly that, but for the future of high-speed rail itself.

It is certainly a plausible argument that spreading the wealth to other parts of the country will whet the appetite nationally for this alternative mode of transportation. And as the appetite grows, so will the pie the argument goes, and the northeast will get its share of the next pie — or perhaps the one after that. And yet the opportunity for dramatic improvement to the travel times between major cities are great right now. While the Northeast Corridor has the closest thing to high speed rail we have in the United States, it is still slow by international standards. And the possibilities for much higher speeds are excellent — with the right investments. But nothing should not be acceptable to policy-makers or politicians. But to not be eligible for one single dollar out of over $8 billion should not be acceptable to our policy-makers or our politicians — many of whom with great fanfare fought for this money to be included in the stimulus package.

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Nothing breeds success like success. Nothing. And while we can recognize the fact that as a region we‘ve benefited more than other areas of the country in terms of dollars spent is fine. But let’s be clear, spending the money the way proposed makes this is a national jobs bill — not a national transportation bill. Sound national transportation planning would have dictated some additional investment now in the only example we have of effective high-ish speed rail in the US.

UPDATE: For more information, I recommend the following: "Vision for the New England High-Speed and Intercity Rail Network," "A Regional Context for Intercity Passenger Rail Improvements in the Northeast," and a letter from 11 Northeastern governors to Secretary of Transportation Raymond LaHood.

Also see the Boston Globe editorial from December 21, "Narrow rules are no excuse to withhold rail money."