America 2050 Update: September 29, 2011

  • New report: High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers
  • Senate Keeps High-Speed Rail Funding Alive for Now
  • Northeast Corridor Funding Sent to States and Amtrak
  • America 2050 in the News

New Report: High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers

America 2050 has collaborated with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy to publish a new report on high-speed rail, called "High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers." The report applies over four decades of international experience in high-speed rail to the U.S. context, and recommends prioritizing corridors with demonstrated markets, such as the Northeast and California, and exploring alternative management and financing arrangements including separating infrastructure development from rail operations and forming public-private partnerships.

International case studies suggest that high-speed rail could create significant transportation, economic, environmental, and safety benefits in American cities and regions. While it requires significant upfront investment, high-speed rail promotes economic growth by improving access to markets, bringing the cities within megaregions closer together. This boosts the productivity of knowledge workers, expands labor markets, and attracts new tourism and visitor spending. When planned thoughtfully with complementary investments in the public realm, high-speed rail can promote urban regeneration and attract commercial development, as shown in several European examples. High-speed rail also has greater operating energy efficiency than competing modes and takes up less land than highways.

The report describes several funding strategies that have proven to be successful in other countries, and makes specific policy recommendations to better position the federal high-speed rail program for success.

Strengthen the federal policy and management framework by expanding the federal role in planning and prioritizing high-speed rail corridors and working with the states to secure rights-of-way.

Prioritize corridors that meet investment criteria by clarifying the objectives and desired outcomes of the federal program and promoting investments in those corridors that exhibit the characteristics that are indicative of success.

Establish new mechanisms for corridor management by developing legislation that enables the creation of public infrastructure corporations that can operate across state and national borders and attract private investment.

Plan for maximum land development benefits by coupling high-speed rail station investments with policies that encourage land development around station areas. In general, well-connected stations in center-city locations offer the greatest potential for urban revitalization.

Focus initially on the Northeast Corridor and California, which offer the best opportunities for Core Express high-speed rail service in the United States, by addressing the management and financing challenges each region faces.

Secure adequate and reliable funding by drawing on a full complement of potential federal, state, and private sources. Such sources could include increasing existing transportation-related fees (such as a portion of the gas tax or ticket surcharges), creating an infrastructure bank, forging public-private partnerships, and expanding existing credit assistance programs.

Download "High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers" at

Senate Keeps High-Speed Rail Funding Alive for Now

Last week, hundreds of America 2050 supporters contacted their Senators, Representatives, and President Obama, asking them to preserve funding for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program in the fiscal year that starts October 1, which had been slashed to zero by the House Appropriations Committee. On September 21, the Senate Appropriations Committee salvaged funding for the program, by passing an amendment introduced by Senators Durbin, Lautenberg, Feinstein & Landrieu to provide $100 million for High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail.

The Senators also resisted an attempt by the House Appropriations Committee to slash Amtrak funding and shut down state-sponsored corridors, which carry one-third of Amtrak's national ridership.

While $100 million does not go very far in building high-speed rail projects, it is a modest investment to continue the momentum states are making in building and planning their passenger rail networks. Grants could help complete discrete rail construction projects or help states complete planning, design and engineering work for their passenger rail networks.

Next week, Congress is likely to pass a six-week continuing resolution to keep the government operating past the current four-day "C.R." that keeps them going through the weekend. (The continuing resolution extends this year's funding levels, which include zero dollars for the high-speed rail program.) When that expires, if Congress passes an appropriations bill for FY 2012, they will need to reconcile the Senate's $100 million appropriation with the House's appropriation of zero.

Please take a moment to thank Senators Durbin, Lautenberg, Feinstein, and Landrieu, for their actions on behalf of this important program in a tough fiscal environment.

Northeast Corridor Funding Sent to States and Amtrak

Even if no new money has become available for high-speed rail this year, the $10.1 billion that was appropriated in 2009-2010 is now being put to work as the federal government signs agreements and sends the money out to states.

On August 22, the Secretary of the U.S. DOT, Ray LaHood, announced that Amtrak and the New York State Department of Transportation will receive the $745 million that was awarded to them back in May 2011 for two high-speed and intercity rail projects on the Northeast Corridor. The grant awards, announced just over three months previous, represented a major victory for the Northeast Corridor's passenger rail system and the announcement marks a major milestone in bringing the benefits of these improvements to the Northeast Corridor.

The $745 million will be used by Amtrak and the New York State DOT to fund two critically important state of good repair projects on the Northeast Corridor. The first is $450 million for upgrades to track and overhead wires between Trenton and New Brunswick, NJ, to create a "race track," where trains can reach speeds of 160 mph, and in the future, when Amtrak purchases new, next generation high-speed train sets, speeds of 186 mph along the improved track.

The second is improvements to the Harold Interlocking in Queens, NY, the busiest railroad interlocking in North America. Over 750 Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), NJ TRANSIT, and Amtrak trains travel through it each day, causing frequent conflicts and delays for over 300,000 daily Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak riders. New York State DOT will use $295 million to build a new flyover that allows Amtrak trains to travel through the interlocking separately from LIRR trains, and NJ TRANSIT trains on their way to the Sunnyside Maintenance Yard.

America 2050 in the News


Transportation Nation Obama Calls on Congress to Pass Federal Transportation Bill And Keep The FAA In Business - Jim O'Grady - August 31, 2011

The Atlantic Cities Defining Cities in a Metropolitan World - Nate Berg - September 15, 2011

Huffington Post True High-Speed Rail Projects Unlikely To Be Fast-Tracked By Jobs Bill Funds - Matt Sledge - September 16, 2011

Transportation Nation Senate Amendment Saves High Speed Rail -- Sort Of - Andrea Bernstein - September 21, 2011

PR Newswire High-Speed Rail Can Work in the U.S., but Requires a Fresh Approach, Lincoln Institute Report Says - Lincoln Institute/America 2050 Join Press Release - September 26, 2011

The Atlantic Cities How to Keep High-Speed Rail Alive - Nate Berg - September 26, 2011

Eno Brief Board of Advisor Corner: Why Now is a Good Time to Plan for High-Speed Rail - Petra Todorovich - September 27, 2011


Mobilizing the Region "Back on Track": A New Source for NE Corridor News - Rosanna Collars - August 1, 2011

WNYC Infrastructure and The Obama Jobs Speech - The Brian Lehrer Show - September 1, 2011

The Capitol New York Infrastructure Status Update - Jon Lentz - September 26, 2011

Boston Globe Calif., Northeast get top billing in study on high-speed rail lines - Eric Moskowitz - September 27, 2011

Regional Plan Association Spotlight Vol. 10 No. 15: High-Speed Rail Can Work Here, Despite Setbacks - Petra Todorovich and Dan Schned - September 27, 2011