Staying competitive or falling behind: The importance of high-speed rails

By Peter Dolan, Pierre Biscaye, and Taylor Zajicek

The United States of America is in dire need of long-term, affordable, safe, and energy efficient transportation.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle agree that the U.S. can no longer afford to keep feeding her oil addiction.  Although this problem is a large and complex one, high speed rail can be a key piece of the puzzle.  Europeans and the Japanese have been enjoying the benefits that high speed rail has to offer for decades, yet efforts to establish high speed rail lines in the United States have been universally unsuccessful.  Despite our past failures to adopt high speed rail, President Obama’s support of high speed rail lines to link Americans everywhere is a promising one.  President Obama envisions a network of rails that would link 80% of Americans via high speed rail lines by 2030 at the cost of $500 billion, a fraction of what is currently being wasted on our outdated, overcrowded, and dilapidated highway system.

There are extremely clear benefits to establishing a high speed rail network in the United States that make it easy to recommend.  High speed rail is far more efficient than passenger jets or personal automobiles, in terms of energy, time, and resources.  High speed rail lines do not require foreign imported oil and are far more environmentally friendly than other popular forms of transportation.

The U.S. High Speed Rail Association estimates that more than 2.8 billion gallons of expensive gasoline are wasted on American roads every year by idling vehicles.  In addition, the U.S. loses $87.2 billion a year to automotive gridlocks, which in turn leads to Americans spending 4.2 billion hours a year sitting in traffic unnecessarily.  A high speed network of trains could reduce these gridlocks and preserve precious time and resources.

Not only would the establishment of a high speed rail network reduce our dependency on foreign oil, it would also take cars off of the highway which would reduce traffic deaths and congestion, and would increase the reliability of the transportation system.  High speed trains are far more reliable than traveling by air, and would prevent passengers from being stuck in airports facing delays, long security lines, and cancelled flights.

Additionally, the construction of a high speed rail network in the U.S. could create as many as 150,000 new jobs and lead to the development of $19 billion per year in new businesses.  Many of these jobs would be in the construction industry that was one of the hardest hit by the ongoing economic recession in the United States.  These jobs are desperately needed and would greatly benefit Americans all across our nation.

In the last few years, China has spent over $360 billion to develop a new national high speed rail network, which has created millions of jobs in China and led to the development of 2,000 new miles of rail networks.  If the United States wants to stay competitive in the world economy, reduce its dependency on foreign oil, and improve the efficiency of its transportation system, high speed rail lines are a must.

However, it is important that we do not become lost in the numbers, statistics, and dollar counts—no matter how compelling they may be.  Ultimately, it comes down to the everyday people whose lives will be transformed by efficient, safe, affordable transport.  What matters is the human factor.  It’s not about gauges, engines, and crossings; it’s about fellow citizens, friends, and families.

High speed rails will create thousands of jobs, providing welcome relief to a multitude of people who find themselves trapped in a currently fallow job market. Our nation’s unhealthy reliance on foreign oil will be alleviated considerably, and our children’s children will experience a healthier planet and breathe cleaner air.  Families torn apart by distance will be able to reunite affordably, without the expense and inconvenience associated with flight.  The hardworking commuter will reclaim countless, precious hours which would otherwise be frittered away in gridlock traffic.  Auto collisions will claim far fewer loved ones when they are seated comfortably in trains.  Millions will be given the opportunity to crisscross the states, watching the beautiful countryside fly by their windows.

America has a strong, prestigious railroad legacy.  For a hundred years, our country was held together by railroad tracks and spikes.  The construction of high speed rail lines will be the crowning culmination of this fine tradition, and we as the American people will benefit and our lives and relationships will be enriched.

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