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The Right Track
America's highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation's transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century.
Intercity passenger rail can help America address each of these challenges. Most major industrialized countries have (or are now building) well-functioning intercity rail systems. High-speed trains traveling from 125 mph to 200 mph or more have long served residents of Europe and Japan, and China is currently in the midst of building a $293 billion, 10,000-mile high-speed rail system.
Now, for the first time, the federal government has invested significant resources toward the development of high-speed rail in the United States, with an $8 billion allocation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $2.5 billion more in Congress' fiscal year 2010 budget.
States across the country are hungry for improved passenger rail. Indeed, states have requested seven times more money for passenger rail improvements than was allocated under ARRA. And that figure does not include many other important and worthwhile projects that were not requested because they were further away from being "shovel-ready."
State requests for passenger rail funding under ARRA -- coupled with the broader agenda for high-speed rail development articulated by the Obama administration -- present a powerful vision for the future of transportation in America, touching virtually every region of the country.
Passenger rail can help address America's toughest transportation challenges.
Passenger rail curbs congestion on highways and in airports, saving travelers time, money and aggravation. The Center for Clean Air Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology estimate that completion of a national high-speed rail network would reduce car travel by 29 million trips and air travel by nearly 500,000 flights annually. That is more flights than depart each year from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the nation's busiest.
- Passenger rail reduces our dependence on oil. On average, an Amtrak passenger uses 23 percent less energy per mile than an airplane passenger, 40 percent less than a car passenger, and 57 percent less than a passenger in an SUV or pickup truck. Newer locomotives are becoming far more efficient, and switching rail lines from diesel to electric power can curb America's oil dependence even further.
- Passenger rail will boost America's economy. The task of building out the nation's high-speed passenger rail network is estimated to create up to 1.6 million construction jobs, and can provide a needed shot in the arm for America's struggling manufacturing sector. Economic growth is also spurred by making travel easier between cities, fostering regional business connections and encouraging exchanges of information in the emerging "knowledge economy." Investments in passenger rail can also reduce the need for costly investments in highways and airport capacity.
- Passenger rail can provide convenient, efficient travel, where riders can work, relax, enjoy greater legroom, and travel directly from downtown to downtown, even in inclement weather -- avoiding the need to drive to outlying airports, wait in long security lines, or jostle for parking in congested center cities.
- Passenger rail protects the environment. The Center for Clean Air Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology estimate that a national high-speed rail network would reduce global warming pollution by 6 billion pounds, the equivalent of taking almost 500,000 cars off the road.
The United States should build an efficient and fast passenger rail net- work, with high-speed rail as a central component, to help address the nation's transportation challenges in the 21st century.
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