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

Thumbnail image for cover_linc-pfr_hsr_300dpi.jpgHigh-speed rail has been adopted throughout the world, and is now being planned and developed in the United States. Over the past 50 years, U.S. transportation spending has heavily favored the development of interstate highway and aviation systems. In the meantime, countries such as China, Japan, Spain, France, and Germany have been investing in modern, high-speed rail systems to satisfy the travel demands of their current and future generations. As the United States embarks on the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program launched in 2009, it can learn from the experiences of other countries in planning, constructing, and operating high-speed rail.

This long-term perspective, discussion of benefits, and recommendations for making high-speed rail work in the United States is presented in a new report released today by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, called "High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers" (PDF). Written by RPA authors Petra Todorovich, Dan Schned, and Robert Lane, the report documents lessons from over four decades of international experience in high-speed rail in Europe and Asia, applies them to the U.S. context, and recommends a fresh approach that creates new, accountable, rail management structures, brings in the private sector, and concentrates for now on California and the Northeast.

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 high, 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 the full report (PDF) at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy website.