Interstate High Speed Rail System Needed

American companies built the world’s best rail infrastructure for freight trains, passenger trains, and streetcars. The government added world-class seaport, roadway, and airport infrastructure that helped America become the world’s largest economy. Powerful opponents prevented streetcar conversions to Rapid Transit and passenger rail conversions to High-Speed Rail. As a result, every American pays a Traffic Congestion Tax, high smog levels persist, and America remains the world’s 2nd largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. — Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America

America once had nearly 100,000 miles of Intercity Passenger Rail with trains running 90-110 mph. When you add station stops and slowdowns caused by freight trains, speeds averaged 60-75 mph. Nevertheless, passenger trains were plentiful and amenity-rich. Our cities teemed with Streetcars. Some big cities also had Metro Rail and Commuter Rail systems. They all met at train stations.

After World War II in 1945, Congress, Presidents, State Legislatures, Governors, and County Commissions accelerated taxpayer funding of Highway and Aviation infrastructure. Drivers paid fuel taxes for highways and airfare included surcharges for airport access. Public bonds and income taxes covered the balance of Highway and Aviation Infrastructure costs.

That means taxpayers who did not drive or fly helped pay for Highway and Aviation Infrastructure.

Within the Highway Lobby, automakers, oil companies, car rental companies, tire companies, and grew richer and created millions of jobs. Ditto for aircraft makers, airlines, and oil companies in the Aviation Lobby. Corporate law requires that publicly-traded companies maximize shareholder profit by any legal means. To maximize profits, those companies formed political lobbies to influence the channeling of more public funds to Highways and Aviation.

The Highway and Aviation lobbies hired think tanks that placed news articles to reframe perspectives of Streetcars and Passenger Trains as “Obsolete Technology.” Those lobbies increased product placement in Hollywood movies and increased campaign donations to politicians who wanted more airport and highway jobs.

For more positive articles and broadcasts about automotive and airplane travel, companies in those lobbies became the largest commercial media advertisers.

In 1952, the Highway lobby convinced Congress and President Truman to introduce federal regulation that limited trains to 79 mph, if rail routes did not have over/underpasses for automobiles to safely cross. That Obsolete Technology perspective convinced most state and county governments to only build a railroad over/underpass when it benefited highways and boulevards. As a result, intercity passenger trains dropped to 45-60 mph average speeds.

Interstate Highway System construction began in 1956. Politicans also funded improvements to older national and state highways. As highways reached 65-80 mph speed limits, driving between cities with a stop or two averaged 55-70 mph for noticeably faster speeds than intercity passenger trains.

The Golden Age of Flying video below exaggerates. Propeller-driven commercial airplanes were noisier and flown at lower altitudes more subject to turbulence. Ticket prices were high, but America’s growing economy was producing more affluent and middle-class patrons who flew to save trip time over long distances. Airplane makers, airlines, municipal airports, and the oil industry grew into a strong Aviation Lobby.

The new air traffic control system made flying safer and helped accelerate Air Travel growth.

In 1958, commercial jets were introduced and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) formed. Jets were quieter than propellers and flew at higher altitudes for mostly smoother rides. FAA’s air traffic control system matured to handle more flights per hour.

Jets got larger and faster to permit lower ticket prices that attracted more patrons and increased profitability.

Since jets use oil-based fuel and airports needed better highways for more people to reach them, the Aviation lobby and the Highway lobby shared interests to attract more federal, state, county, and city investment to airports. Airlines paid relatively small fees for Aviation infrastructure, so taxpayers and public bonds funded most of it.

Intercity passenger trains were destined to lose long-distance ridership to jets, but their medium-distance (50-300 miles) ridership also plummeted because trains could no longer average speeds faster than cars. Governors, county commissioners, and mayors bragged about the additional jobs that new highways and bigger airports attracted. They never mentioned train jobs lost.

America’s land-design patterns changed in the 1950s as well. Our suburbs became randomly designed with communities spaced further apart and further from city centers. That was perfect for automobiles and buses, but anathema for slug-paced streetcars. Excluding a couple of streetcars lines in New Orleans and San Francisco, they died by 1964.

The random, non-grid patterns of suburbia also made it difficult to forecast the high ridership to justify Streetcar to Metro Rail conversions.

Since the fall 1945, federal, state, and county governments have invested over $2 trillion in Highway infrastructure and $700 billion in Aviation infrastructure. Prior to 2009, they invested less than $15 billion in Intercity Passenger Rail infrastructure. Though many billions of dollars went to Transit agencies for slow local bus service, very little went to Streetcar conversion to Metro Rail.

Consequently, corporate lobbies, government investment, and suburban land-design patterns pushed America from a “Passenger Train-Transit-Automobile Culture” to an “Automobile-Jet Culture.”

High-Speed Rail Threat To Select Industries

When Japan introduced High-Speed Rail to the world in the summer of 1964, it sparked jealousy and embarrassment in America. How could a nation that America conquered in World War II introduce faster passenger trains before us?

Congress and President Johnson reacted quickly by funding a Washington-NYC High-Speed Rail project in 1965 that became the “Metroliner” train. If it succeeded, High-Speed Rail (HSR) could spread nationwide and threaten Highway and Aviation domination of publicly funded Transportation Infrastructure.

With brutal speed and efficiency, Highway and Aviation lobbies responded by misleading news media, politicians, and naive citizens to believe opinions misrepresented as facts, half-truths, and lies such as:

1. Americans won’t ride passenger trains anymore
2. Passenger trains are money-losers that don’t justify public investment
3. Converting Streetcar lines into faster, high capacity Metro Rail is a waste of taxpayer money
4. We don’t need Interstate HSR because widening Highways solves traffic congestion
5. We don’t need Interstate HSR because Americans prefer regional flights

Though fewer industries oppose HSR today, remaining opponents want news media, politicians, and naive citizens to continue believing a dozen more opinions misrepresented as fact, half-truths and lies.

Understanding HSR first requires speed definition. Since America has so little HSR and our government has no consistent definition of HSR it’s best to start with international definitions where HSR thrives. UIC, the international agency representing Intercity Passenger Rail systems, has precise Regional Rail, 1st, 2nd & 3rd Generation HSR speed definitions listed below by kilometers per hour (kph) and miles per hour (mph). More 4th Generation HSR routes are opening too:

Regional Rail: Electric railway for commuter & passenger trains to reach 150-180 kph (93-112 mph)
1st Generation HSR: Upgraded electric railway for passenger trains to reach 200-240 kph (124-149 mph)
2nd Generation HSR: Better upgraded electric railway for passenger trains to reach 250-280 kph (155-174 mph)
3rd Generation HSR: Dedicated electric railway for passenger trains to reach 300-310 kph (186-193 mph)
4th Generation HSR: Straighter dedicated electric railway for passenger trains to reach 320-400 kph (199-249 mph)

Many Asian and European nations have proved that Regional Rail, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Generation HSR mitigates Highway congestion and cuts regional flights, and delivers many other public benefits.

In contrast, America’s Congress, presidents, state legislatures, governors, and county commissioners fumbled HSR, Regional Rail, and Metro Rail. If the backstory interests you, spend 7 minutes reviewing American Passenger Rail History to understand how we built the world’s greatest passenger rail network, then let it atrophy.

Should Japan be Our Nation-Model for High-Speed Rail?

In 1993, American politics briefly aligned to begin upgrading the Washington-NYC-Boston rail corridor to hybrid 1st & 2nd Generation HSR status. We could model our HSR development after a nation with demographic traits resembling the Northeast Corridor. Let’s start with Japan.

Heavily bombed in World War II, Japan had to quickly rebuild railway, rapid transit, highway, and airport infrastructure to restore their economy. America forced Japan to become a Democratic nation with individual property rights. Under American-supervised occupation until 1952, post-war Japan entered a future with high gasoline prices and excessive dependence on imported oil. To reduce foreign oil dependence, Japan built nuclear power plants for most of its electricity and rebuilt its Electric Grid to higher standards.

Since mainland America was not bombed during World War II, it remained the only superpower capable of Infrastructure investment at home and abroad. America invested $2.2 billion ($22 billion in 2020 dollars) to help rebuild Japan’s infrastructure in part, to make it an export market for American goods.

Japan Railway Company started rebuilding the rail corridor between its largest metro areas (Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka) as an electric route with over/underpasses at railroad crossings and straitening curves. Hitachi converted bulky diesel-powered passenger trains to lighter-weight electric-powered passenger trains that accelerate & brake faster. Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka expanded their Metro Rail and Commuter Rail lines to/from train stations.

Japanese citizens and automakers wanted more personal mobility by car too. They helped convince the Japanese government to start building a national tollway system in 1957. To prevent excessive dependence on foreign oil, however, the tollway system was limited to 4 lanes between cities, a strict 100 kph (62 mph) speed limit, high tolls, and connected to narrow 4-6 lane urban freeways.

By 1958 Japan’s economy was back on its feet and the Commercial Jet Age began worldwide, prompting the government to start airport modernization. The same year, Japan invested the equivalent of $3.6 billion to further upgrade the 320-mile Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka corridor as a dedicated passenger railway.

Japan introduced the world’s first electric HSR service in 1964 with 210 kph (130 mph) top speed. It was named “Shinkansen.” Showcased during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, Shinkansen revealed that Japan returned to the world stage as a tech-savvy industrial nation.

It made intermediate stops and attracted so many riders that airlines cut flights between Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. Today, no one mentions that the final construction cost for Shinkansen was double the original estimate.

By 1993, Shinkansen carried over 2 billion passengers and reached 270 kph (168 mph), like the passing train above. Despite its grand passenger rail achievements, Japan is not the best HSR nation model for America.

Japan has 2.5 times the population-density of the Northeast, America’s densest region,, coupled with high incomes. The combination of hyper-dense population, high imported oil costs, slow tollways, full embrace of HSR, Commuter Rail upgraded to Regional Rail, the world’s most comprehensive Metro Rail network, and lower car ownership were too dissimilar for America to adopt Shinkansen’s HSR Best Practices.

Which European Country Should Be HSR Nation Model for America?

Railways, roadways, airports, and factories in Europe were heavily bombed in World War II. In 1948, America invested $15 billion ($162 billion in 2021 dollars) to help rebuild European infrastructure and revive the continent as an export market for American goods.

In 1965-66, the railway agencies of Italy, France, West Germany, and the United Kingdom were no longer satisfied with 150-170 kph (93-106 mph) Intercity Passenger Rail. They accelerated R&D for passenger trains to achieve higher speeds too.

Western Europe also competed in airplane manufacturing but did not have a single company large enough to compete with Boeing. Over 1970-71, a consortium of airplane companies from France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands formed Airbus to compete with Boeing. Airbus successfully lobbied for public-funded airport expansion across Europe.

In the 1970s, Italy had a modest population density, half of America’s Median Household Income, and half of America’s percentage of car ownership. Italy imported most of its oil. Its airports were not congested. Many drivers exceeded the 130 kph (81 mph) Autostrade Tollway speed limit. Italian sports cars were celebrated and exported worldwide. Italian trains were not, though most Italians rode them.

Rome and Florence had small Commuter Rail systems anchoring their train stations. By the late 1970s, an Italian company introduced the Pendolino, whose tilt-train technology lets trains go faster in curves without upsetting passengers. Those conditions were sufficient for Italy to open a modest HSR line between Rome and Florence in 1979.

Unfortunately, that first HSR route in Europe was plagued with mismanagement and mediocre infrastructure that crippled speed in places and lowered schedule reliability. Those conditions depressed ridership and slowed expansion for a decade. Italy was not a good HSR model for America in 1993, but Pendolino tilt technology found its way to many High-Speed Trains (HST).

By treaty after World War II, Russia controlled East Germany, excluding West Berlin. East Germany was forced to become a Communist nation. Since Russia had to rebuild its own economy, helping East Germany rebuild infrastructure and its economy recover was not a priority.

By the same treaty, America, France, and the United Kingdom controlled West Germany and forced it to become a Democratic nation. America invested in West Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Belgium to help rebuild their infrastructure and upsize their markets for our exports.

West Germany’s economy was strong enough to start HSR R&D by 1966 and potential HSR construction by 1973. But it had to overcome a decade of lawsuits related to HSR route alignments. That country also had to reunite with East Germany in 1990.

Given those conditions, a unified Germany did not open its first HSR line until 1991. Thus, Germany was not a well-proven HSR nation model by 1993. Nor did the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, or the Netherlands satisfy enough demographic and economic conditions to be a good HSR nation model for America.

France, HSR Nation-Model for America

France had a population size similar to America’s Northeast Region. Unlike the rest of Europe, Paris train stations and Metro system were spared from bombing.

Following Japan’s lead, France boosted HSR R&D in 1965. By 1970, the French economy was in good shape and population density was increasing in the Lille-Paris-Lyon-Valence-Avignon-Marseille-Cannes-Nice corridor. That corridor had about 70% of America’s Median Household Income and a relatively high car-ownership percentage that often clogged its 110-130 kph (68-81 mph) Autoroute Tollway System.

To remain competitive with Autoroute Tollway and Commercial Aviation, the French train maker Alstom accelerated R&D for its HST based on jet-turbine engines. Like jets, its fuel was based on oil. Things looked promising when the test Alstom HST set 250-300 kph (155-186 mph) test speed records.

Before Alstom HST could be introduced for commercial operation a big October 1973 event led France to transform its Energy and Transportation policy. The the OPEC Oil Embargo over 1973-74 staggered the French economy and exposed overdependence on foreign oil. When oil prices hiked, people cut tollway driving and airlines jacked-up fares. It crippled their economy.

To reduce oil dependence, the French government accelerated construction of nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. SNCF accelerated the conversion of passenger railways from diesel power to electric power. Alstom re-engineered its HST for electric power.

Paris and Lyon would only be 243 miles apart by rail. Modest distance, large population size, and no large mountain range between them made the city-pair ideal for HSR. Between them, SNCF introduced state-of-the-art HSR infrastructure called “Ligne a Grande Vitesse”, which translates to “High-Speed Line.” The French call it “LGV.”

For straighter & flatter routes, LGV has under/overpasses at every railroad crossing, and many short tunnels & viaducts, and long embankments. It has premium track bedding, high-speed track switches, and precisely shaved tracks for smooth rides. LGV’s electric power system has a higher voltage (25 kiloVolts) to support higher speeds. Every LGV has complete fencing and electronic track monitors for public safety.

For efficient management & operations, SNCF spawned a new agency to operate the Alstom HST branded as “Train a Grande Vitesse.” That translates to “High-Speed Train.” The French called it, “TGV.”

In 1981, TGV launched on LGV between Paris and Lyon at 168 mph as the world’s fastest train in commercial operation. For an advanced European nation that never built a substantial automotive export market like Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the world’s fastest train evoked French national pride.

By 1988, SNCF and Alstom technical tweaks enabled TGV to reach 186 mph on LGV. TGV frequency increased, Coach Fares lowered, and operating profits jumped. France also began upgrading Commuter Rail to faster & frequent “Regional Rail.” France continusly expanded the Paris Metro Rail system after World War II.

After the 1973-74 OPEC Embargo SNCF accelerated conversion Streetcar lines into routes with better covered stations spaced further apart. Alstom modernized Streetcars to become sleeker, higher capacity Trams for 30-35 kph (19-22 mph) average speeds.

All mass transportation met at train stations. High foot traffic triggered a retail boom within and near train stations. More Regional Rail, Metro Rail, and Tram access to TGV juiced its ridership, profits, and job creation. That infrastructure success and national pride inspired France to vote for faster expansion of LGV, Regional Rail, Metro Rail, and Trams nationwide.

Clinton Kickstarts Lackluster High-Speed Rail in America

In 1993, America’s northeastern Interstate Highways in NYC-Washington corridor permitted a 70 mph speed limit, but traffic congestion and tollway stops limited drivers to 60-62 mph average speed. Amtrak Metroliner topped 110 mph but averaged 62-64 mph with 4-5 stops between NYC and Washington.

America also needed to rebound from an economic recession. So Congress approved economic stimulus funds for Clinton to quickly deploy in ready-to-build projects like the Northeast Corridor which as already reaching 110 mph top speed in some places.

America’s Northeast Corridor had high ridership potential because it had higher Household Incomes and higher population density than the Brussels-to-Marseille LGV corridor:

457 Miles: Boston (5M) – New Haven (500K) – NYC (17M) – Philly (6M) – Baltimore (2M) – DC (4M) = 34 Million Pop.
523 Miles: Brussels (1M) – Lille (1M) – Paris (9M) – Lyon (2M) – Valence (1M) – Marseille (2M) = 15 Million Pop.

With those demographics, President Clinton’s U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) reasoned that the Northeast Corridor could produce TGV-like ridership success.

Highway & Aviation Lobbies Increase Attacks on High Speed Rail

America’s Highway and Aviation lobbies feared Amtrak Northeast Corridor reaching TGV-like speed and ridership success. That would spark demand for a robust Interstate HSR System.

More specifically, the Highway Lobby feared it would reduce oil consumption from intercity car drives, intercity bus rides, tire purchases, car rentals, concrete & asphalt sales, and compete with Interstate Highways for USDOT funding. The Aviation Lobby also feared fewer regional flights, lower regional jet sales, and competition with Hub Airports for USDOT funding.

The Interstate HSR threat motivated Highway and Aviation lobbies to fund Reason, Cato, Heritage think tanks to mislead news media with lies and confusion about HSR. In turn, news media misled naive politicians and citizens. A majority of the 1993 Congress and governors believed HSR lies or hid behind the confusion.

In that political fog, USDOT and Amtrak expanded the Northeast Corridor HSR project to 457 miles (Washington-NYC-Boston) hoping to get more Congressional and governor support for the project. Despite Amtrak asking for larger HSR project funding, President Clinton invested only $4.3 billion/8 years in federal funds through his USDOT. Congress and governors did not pressure Clinton to increase that amount, which attracted about $1.5 billion from state and county sources for $5.8 billion in total.

Total funding was only sufficient for a sub-par HSR upgrade and purchase of 165-mph High-Speed Trains (HST) from the Alstom-Bombardier consortium.

The fastest 17-mile segment between Boston and Providence was originally planned for 165 mph. But parallel tracks remained too close for passing freight trains. For safety, the Federal Railroads Administration limited speed to 150 mph. About 95 miles of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland infrastructure were upgraded to 125-135 mph. The other 345 miles of the 457-mile Northeast Corridor remained miserably below 110 mph.

The top speed, however, would still be a reason to brand Amtrak’s second High-Speed Train “Acela”, a portmanteau representing “Acceleration” and “Excellence.”

Amtrak Metroliner reached 125 mph on the better infrastructure segments and was rebranded “Amtrak Northeast Regional” to differentiate it as a Regional service with more stops than Acela. With fares about 60% lower than Acela, Northeast Regional became essential mobility for the heavy concentration of Northeast Corridor college students and others on a tight budget.

Despite mediocre infrastructure, Amtrak ridership jumped when Acela launched in 2000, joining Northeast Regional service in the Northeast Corridor. In 2006, Amtrak Acela & Amtrak Northeast Regional entered operating profit.

Bush II Drops the Ball on High-Speed Rail

The second President Bush pounced on Amtrak’s shortcomings and slow speeds for other rail corridors. He nearly killed Amtrak’s federal funding.

Then 9-11-2001 Terrorist Event revealed a critical need for Northeast Corridor HSR. Highway bridges & tunnels to NYC closed, so Congress rode Acela to survey tragic wreckage at the NYC Trade Center wreckage.

For everyone else, airport security hassle multiplied. Longer queues formed in every aspect of air travel. To maintain profits, airlines shortened legroom in Coach Class. Airplanes did not have WiFi or electrical outlets at that time.

In contrast, Amtrak passengers experienced shorter NYC-Newark-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington travel time between Central Business Districts. Acela and Northeast Regional had 26 combined daily roundtrips spread over 18 hours. Train passengers appreciated their 87-89% schedule reliability, fast onboarding-offboarding, wide seats with ample legroom, WiFi, electric outlets, cafe cabin, and any-time restroom access.

A Yale grad like his father, Bush II knew Yale students often rode trains between New Haven and Washington. The corridor transports more Regional Rail commuters than Amtrak passengers. When Acela and Northeast Regional entered operating profit in 2006, President Bush II could have obtained enough Congressional votes to complete funding the NYC-Newark-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington segment upgrade for 165 mph and the curvy NYC-New Haven segment upgrade to 110 mph. A diehard Oil Man from Texas like his father, however, President Bush II would not increase Northeast Corridor HSR funding.

Read more about amtrak Acela’s overwrought path to progress here.

Obama Broadens Intercity Passenger Rail

During his 2008 Presidential Campaign, Obama promised large Amtrak funding. Sensing an opportunity for job-creation success with a progressive President and Congress in 2009, 37 governors adopted Intercity Passenger Rail project plans. President Obama received 259 state applications requesting $57 billion of USDOT grants for Amtrak Regional & HSR projects.

Northeast Corridor and Florida HSR projects were Ready-to-Build. California committed over $11 billion towards its planned HSR project and upgrades to its Amtrak Regional lines. Amtrak Regional Rail upgrade projects were Ready-to-Build in two Chicago-Midwest corridors, the Pacific Northwest, and Southeast.

In February 2009, Congress and President Obama passed the $787 billion economic stimulus package. Since “Amtrak Joe” was his Vice President, Passenger Rail advocates hoped that President Obama would designate $52 billion towards Northeast Corridor, California, Florida, and one Chicago-Midwest HSR project along with $8 billion towards the maintenance backlog for other Amtrak lines.

Transportation planning, public input, and engineering jobs would have immediately boosted. Each year from 2012 to 2022, Amtrak passengers would experience significant operational improvements.

Obama Miscalculates Political Timing for Infrastructure

President Obama thought he could prioritize Health Care his first 2 years, then address Big Infrastructure funding the last 2 years of his first term. In 2009, he only allocated $8.5 billion to HSR projects and $5 billion to Amtrak maintenance backlog.

For political reasons new Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio governors rejected their economic stimulus grants for HSR & Amtrak Regional Rail projects. Their funds were redirected to other states.

Northeast Corridor projects received less than $1 billion from the economic stimulus. California HSR received $3.5 billion but was not Ready-to-Build until 2015. Equally important, the economic stimulus grant did not match California HSR’s $11 billion commitment. California HSR needed $20 billion total to open a large Initial Operating Segment by 2022.

Amtrak mistakenly split the remaining $4 billion in economic stimulus grants upgrading Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit route to 90-110 mph, Chicago-St. Louis route to 80-90 mph, Seattle-Portland route to 80 mph over longer stretches, and Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte routes to 80 mph over longer stretches. Much of these routes remain single-track, which limits speed and train frequency.

The Wisconsin governor later said he would have accepted funding to upgrade Amtrak service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Despite grossly underfunding HSR and Amtrak Regional Rail projects, positive indicators emerged by late 2010. Labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, and infrastructure builders warmed to HSR. President Obama’s economic stimulus saved the automotive industry. Since Obama promised that his upcoming Transportation Proposal to Congress would repair more highways, the automotive industry stopped their public opposition to HSR and Amtrak Regional upgrade projects.

Again the USDOT failed our President. They should have focused the remaining $4 billion towards a unified 2-track 110 mph Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit route with run-through tracks in Chicago and untangling related freight rail through Chicago. That would have attracted about $3 billion from 4 state DOTs, affected counties, freight rail companies, and Transportation-Oriented Developers. There could have been 17 daily roundtrips quadrupling Amtrak ridership in that unified Chicago-Midwest corridor.

Unemployment from May to October 2010 of the Great Recession was 9.6%. Nearly 15 million Americans needed jobs and Transportation Infrastructure projects could employ many of them. Those circumstances led Obama to request $53 billion/6 years for Amtrak Regional & HSR projects within his larger 2011 Transportation Proposal for consideration by the House of Representatives.

President Obama believed the 2011 House of Representatives would send a Transportation Proposal to the Senate that contained more funds for Highway, Aviation, Railroads, Transit, and Electric Energy projects as best suited to each state. If he succeeded, millions of Infrastructure jobs would have been created.

Larger federal funding for Amtrak Regional & HSR projects attracts larger matching funds from states, counties & freight rail companies. HSR and Amtrak Regional Rail projects in the Northeast Corridor, California, Milwaukee-Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-St. Louis, Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte, and Pacific Northwest would have received a difference-making $85-90 billion total over 8 years.

Though Automotive opposition to better Passenger Rail subsided, Obama underestimated Fossil Fuel’s influence over the U.S. House of Representative politics would drastically change after the November 2010 Mid-Term Election.

Most mid-term voters were conservative and rural or suburban. They cared more about immediate jobs, Highways, and Airports. A lower percentage of mid-term voters were progressive and urban people who care about Intercity Passenger Rail, Rapid Transit, and Electric Energy necessary to power them.

In January 2011, a new conservative majority led the House of Representatives and moved closer to stalling legislation in the Senate. They vowed to make Obama a one-term President. Backed by Highway and Aviation lobbies, the House majority would not permit higher Intercity Passenger Rail, Rapid Transit, Wind, Solar & Electric Grid project funding. Northeast Corridor remained a mediocre HSR route.

They were willing to keep Highway bridge and Aviation projects underfunded during the Obama Administration, in part because, the fossil fuel industry makes more money with commuters stuck in highway traffic and more fuel burned for short regional flights.

Each Congressional funding cycle from 2011 to 2016, the Obama Administration requested a higher budget for federal Highway bridge repair, Aviation, Transit, and Railroad grants. Each time the U.S. House of Representatives rejected Obama’s proposals by sending “Same-Level-of-Funding” budget proposals to the Senate for a vote. Amtrak only received a pittance of maintenance backlog funds. No new HSR, Amtrak Regional or Electric Energy funding was approved by the House.

If the Senate and President Obama did not sign the House of Representatives budget proposal, high unemployment would persist. With no better alternatives, they signed. Fortunately, the economic stimulus and reduced Defense spending helped unemployment drop by half during the Obama Administration.

The next president delivered no Transportation Infrastructure of significance.

Auto-Jet Culture, Inadequate for the 21st Century

By only prioritizing Highway and Aviation investment since the Vietnam War began in 1964, we’re wearing that infrastructure out faster than we repair it, particularly Highway bridges.

In 2019, Statista ranked America’s Infrastructure a lousy 13th. Also that year, a Railroad Infrastructure Quality report by The Global Economy shows the USA ranked 11th. Our Intercity Passenger Rail failures correlate to lenghty spans of disgracefuly low Federal Railroad funding.

FRA Intercity Railroad spending by year

Yearly Intercity Railroad spending by the Federal Railroads Administration; credit Urban Institute/Yonah Freemark

Yonah Freemark of the Urban Institute tracked our Federal Railroad investment since 1977. If Yonah Freemark’s chart went back to 1964, it would illustrate that America shortchanged Federal Railroad investment over spans of 1964-79, 1982-2009, and 2011-21. The same scale of underinvestment is true for Rapid Transit, Electric Grid, Wind & Solar projects.

Give American political leaders a pass for underinvestment during the Vietnam War (1964-74). The 1973 Oil Embargo should have motivated them to get serious about HSR, Regional Rail, Metro Rail, and Electric Grid investment in 1974. Instead, Democrats and Republicans squandered one opportunity after another.

Starting in 1974 through 1994, our Global Economic Competitors expanded Highway, Rapid Transit, Intercity Passenger Rail & Aviation infrastructure and accelerated Electric Grid modernization to support them. Though they reap benefits from Auto-Transit-Train-Jet Culture today, larger benefits are coming over 2025-40.

Falling further behind the infrastructure of Global Economic Competitors has terrible economic and environmental consequences. This 7-part series focuses on why America needs better HSR, Regional Rail, and Metro Rail, while fixing Highway bridges, modernizing Aviation, and modernizing the Electric Grid fed by more Wind & Solar Energy.

If you are unfamiliar with HSR and Regional Rail technologies, I recommend a 3-minute read of Interstate High-Speed Rail Taxonomy linked below before reading Part 2.

Interstate High-Speed Rail Taxonomy

Part 2: Global Economic Competitors Enjoying HSR Benefits

Part 3: Population Growth, Air Pollution at Odds with Highway Expansion

Part 4: Alternatives that Fall Short of Regional Mobility Needs

Part 5: Rapid Transit Expansion, Another Key to 21st Century Mobility

Part 6: Scale of Interstate HSR System Needed by 2045

Part 7: Interstate High Speed Rail Funding

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