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 seaport, highway, 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 we are the world’s 2nd largest contributor to Greenhouse Gas emissions. — Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America

American cities once teemed with Streetcars. Some also had Metro Rail and Commuter Rail lines. They all met at train stations because nearly 100,000 miles of Intercity Passenger Rail let trains reach 90-110 mph. Station stops and slowdowns caused by freight trains lowered average speeds to 60-75 mph. Nevertheless, passenger trains were plentiful and amenity-rich for satisfying journeys.

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

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 more public funds channeled 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, intercity driving with a stop or two averaged 55-70 mph for faster speeds than intercity passenger trains.

Commercial Airplanes ultimately became a bigger nemesis to Passenger Trains. After World War II, propeller-driven commercial airplanes were often noisy and flown at lower altitudes more subject to turbulence. Upgrades to the air traffic control system made flying safer. Ticket prices were high, but America’s growing economy was producing more patrons who flew to save trip time over long distances. Since jets use oil-based fuel they found a welcome friend in the oil industry.

As a result, airplane makers, airlines, municipal airports, and the oil industry grew into a strong Aviation Lobby.

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

Jets got larger and faster to permit lower ticket prices that attracted more patrons. Airlines paid relatively small fees for Aviation infrastructure. Airports needed better highway connections. Hence, the Aviation lobby and the Highway lobby shared interests to attract more federal, state, and county investment to airports.

Intercity passenger trains were destined to lose long-distance ridership to jets, but their medium-distance (25-300 miles) ridership also plummeted because trains could no longer average speeds faster than cars. Governors and county commissioners bragged about additional jobs that new highways and bigger airports attracted. They never mentioned passenger train jobs lost.

America’s land-design patterns changed after World War II. The GI Bill spurred the development of single-family homes in randomly designed suburban communities spaced further apart and further from city centers. That was perfect for automobiles, but anathema for streetcars. Since pubic officials were convinced that streetcars were also “Obsolete Technology”, they ignored opportunities to convert streetcar lines to Metro Rail. Only a couple of New Orleans and San Francisco streetcar lines survived after 1964.

Since World War II, federal, state, and county governments have invested over $2 trillion in Highway infrastructure and $700 billion in Aviation infrastructure. In contrast, they invested less than $15 billion in Intercity Passenger Rail infrastructure prior to 2009. Though many billions of dollars went to Transit agencies for slow bus service, very little went to Metro Rail projects.

NET: Corporate lobbies, government investment choices, and suburban land-design patterns pushed America from “Passenger Train-Transit-Automobile Culture” to “Automobile-Jet Culture.”

High-Speed Rail, A Threat To Powerful Select Industries

When Japan introduced the electric High-Speed Rail line in the summer of 1964, it sparked major embarrassment. How could a nation that America conquered in World War II introduce better Intercity Passenger Rail than us?

In 1965, Congress and President Johnson reacted quickly by funding an electric High-Speed Rail project in the Washington-Baltimore-Philadelphia-NYC corridor that became the “Metroliner” train. If it succeeded, electric-powered High-Speed Rail (HSR) could spread. That would threaten Highway and Aviation domination of publicly funded Transportation Infrastructure and reduce gasoline and jet fuel sales.

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. America’s Auto-Jet Culture won’t ride trains anymore
2. Intercity passenger trains are money-losers that don’t justify public investment
3. Converting Streetcar lines into faster, high-capacity Metro Rail wastes taxpayer money
4. We don’t need Interstate HSR because Interstate Highway widening 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 mileage and our government has inconsistent definitions of HSR, it’s best to use 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 passenger trains to reach 160-200 kph (99-124 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)

Asian and European nations have proved that Regional Rail and HSR mitigate highway congestion and cut regional flights.

In contrast, America’s Congress, Presidents, Governors, and County Commissioners fumbled HSR, Regional Rail, and Streetcar conversions to 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 corridor to HSR status. We could model HSR after a nation with demographic traits resembling that of the Northeast Corridor. Let’s start with Japan.

Heavily bombed in World War II, Japan had to quickly rebuild passenger & freight rail, 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. Bombings enabled them to straiten more curves too. 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 convinced 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, and high tolls. It 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. The Japanese government started 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.

In 1964, Japan introduced the world’s first electric HSR service with a 210 kph (130 mph) top speed 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 cares 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) top speed, like the video above. Despite its tremendous passenger rail achievements, Japan is not the best HSR 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 was too dissimilar for America to adopt Shinkansen 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 130-170 kph (81-106 mph) Regional 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 155 mph HSR line until 1991. Thus, Germany was not a well-proven HSR nation model by 1993. Nor did the United Kingdom, Spain, or Belgium satisfy enough technical, 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 operated sustainably at 270 kph (168 mph) on test track.

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 the 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, 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 continuously expanded the Paris Metro Rail system after World War II.

After the 1973-74 OPEC Embargo SNCF accelerated the conversion of 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 needed to rebound from an economic recession. So Congress approved economic stimulus funds for President Clinton to quickly deploy in ready-to-build projects like the Northeast Corridor which was already reaching 110 mph in some places.

America’s Northeast Corridor had high ridership potential because it had higher Household Incomes and higher population density than the Brussels-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 186 mph 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, and Heritage Foundation 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 heavy High-Speed Trains (HST) from the Alstom-Bombardier consortium.

The fastest 17-mile segment between Boston suburbs and Providence was originally planned for 165 mph. But parallel tracks remained too close for passing freight trains. For safety, the Federal Railroads Administration (FRA) 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 well 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 Amtrak 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 FRA funding to every Amtrak service outside the Northeast Corridor.

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 college students often rode trains between New Haven, NYC, Philadelphia, 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 Newark-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington segment upgrade for 165 mph while upgrading the curvy & tunneled Newark-NYC-New Haven segment to 110 mph.

An 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 HSR and California HSR alone needed $40 billion in USDOT grants.

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 Obama would designate $55 billion towards HSR projects along with $5 billion towards the maintenance backlog for Amtrak trains.

Obama Miscalculates Political Timing for Infrastructure

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

For political reasons, new Florida and Wisconsin governors rejected their economic stimulus grants for HSR & Regional Rail projects. Their funds were redirected to other states. Later, the Wisconsin governor backtracked by stating that he would have accepted a grant to upgrade the existing Amtrak infrastructure between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The FRA & Amtrak flubbed opportunity in Ohio by planning a new Amtrak service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinatti corridor whose average speed would be slower than driving. Perceiving that it would attract low ridership and cost the state more to operate, the Ohio governor rejected the grant. Instead, the governor said he would have accepted a grant to upgrade the existing Amtrak service between Toledo and Cleveland from 80 mph to 110 mph top speed. Ohio’s grant was also redirected to other states.

Ultimately, California HSR only received $3.5 billion, Northeast Corridor HSR only received $1 billion, and Amtrak split the $4 billion remainder on sub-par Amtrak Regional upgrades.

Obama’s Intercity Passenger Rail policy failed for three reasons. First, he did not demand that the economic stimulus be at least $825 billion (rather than $787 billion) to keep his campaign promise of launching HSR projects and improving Amtrak Regional service.

Second, he should have allocated $50 billion in FRA grants to four HSR projects:

$20 billion Northeast Corridor HSR
$20 billion Californa HSR
$ 4 billion Florida HSR
$ 6 billion Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit HSR

Amtrak and state transportation agencies owned most Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit right-of-way. An HSR project would combine & upgrade 2 Amtrak Regional lines and it would enable passenger trains to travel through Chicago Union Station rather than terminate at it. When the Florida governor turned down his state’s HSR grant, those funds should have gone to Milwaukee-Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit HSR.

Third, the 2009-10 Democratic-led Congress failed to boost Federal Railroad funding to $10 billion/year within the USDOT budget to upgrade Amtrak Regional lines. Since Amtrak Regional lines are co-supported by states, that $20 billion/2 years would have attracted about $10 billion/2 years from states, counties & freight rail companies wanting better passenger & freight rail service sharing the same routes. Even if a 20011-12 Republican-led Congress slashed the FRA budget, $30 billion could have upgraded 8 other Amtrak Regional lines for higher speeds, frequency, reliability, and safety that Europeans call “Regional Rail.”

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.

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

Most mid-term voters were conservative and rural-suburban. They cared more about 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 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 President 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 Northeast Corridor HSR, California HSR, Amtrak Regional, or Electric Energy funding was approved by the House.

If the Senate and President Obama did not sign the 2011-16 House of Representatives budget proposals, 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 disgracefully 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 since 1964.

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 modernizing Highways, Aviation, and the Electric Grid.

If you would like to know more about HSR and Regional Rail technologies, I recommend a 3-minute read of the 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

0 replies

Login. Register. Use your Google / Facebook login.

Leave a Reply