As President Trump has called for new investments in our infrastructure, he has routinely criticized our nation’s passenger rail system, lamenting America’s lack of ‘fast trains’. There is no denying that America should have more frequent and faster train service. But those fast trains will not just show up at the station. They will emerge across America if we implement a serious public investment plan focused on long-term modernization of Amtrak and other passenger rail systems.
The rest of the world gets it. China says it will spend over $500 billion to upgrade its rail network by 2020. Japan has committed more than $100 billion to faster train service. Many countries are in a race to develop the next generation of high-speed trains exceeding 400 mph. Meanwhile, America dabbles in passenger rail as our government gives Amtrak just enough to get by, and fails as a partner in modernizing dangerously old and highly inefficient equipment and infrastructure.
California’s forward-looking high-speed rail system faces fierce political headwinds. When completed, Phase 1 of the California High-Speed Rail project will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles at speeds of 220 miles per hour. Yet, despite an economic impact study showing that high-speed rail would increase economic development, ease congestion, boost tourism and connect consumers to new businesses, the project continually faces backlash from politicians who see it as a waste of money. When it comes to creating jobs, high-speed rail is no joke — this project will also put tens of thousands to work.
For too long Amtrak has survived on austerity budgets. The latest Trump Administration budget is no different, as it calls for Amtrak cuts and ends congressionally supported long-distance trains. Year after year Amtrak runs its system — and manages the upkeep and upgrades to its massive infrastructure — with insufficient resources. Some think tanks and lawmakers have even tried to bankrupt the company — yes, with calls for zero budgets.
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