Opinion Contributors Ray LaHood and Greg Regan for the Hill.
High-speed rail is coming to America, and working people should take notice.
The Biden Administration is planning to use funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to construct multiple high-speed rail lines. This is a very big deal for American workers.
In addition to transforming daily commutes, expanding access to affordable housing and helping win the fight against climate change, high-speed rail projects will create a whole new field of exciting work opportunities — and they’re already creating thousands of good union jobs today.
Bullet train projects are massive in scope. The high-speed rail projects now underway in California, Nevada and Texas are becoming the largest infrastructure projects in the country.
They are also extremely complex. In a recent report, a group of University of Washington researchers wrote that high-speed rail projects include features “similar to those of airports, airplanes, and highways, combined and delivered together, all at once.”
Think for a moment about the vast workforce needed to build these high-tech systems.
In order to achieve speeds of 186 miles per hour or more, high-speed rail projects require thousands of construction workers to build hundreds of miles of dedicated infrastructure — bridges, tunnels, and vast quantities of rail tracks and ties on top of a fixed guideway. Workers will also produce thousands of tons of steel and concrete that feed into the construction.
Bullet trains are fully electric, meaning more jobs installing overhead wires, posts and power substations along the route. The California High Speed Rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco is building enough solar panels along its right-of-way to power the entire 500-mile high-speed system.
We could go on and on. Operations and maintenance crews are needed to run the high-speed systems, and we will see an increased demand for engineers, architects, urban planners, lawyers, and marketing, finance, operations and management experts, as well.
These projects won’t be flashes in the pan. The federal government has designated 11 different major transportation corridors across the country where high-speed rail lines should be built, including a Midwest network connecting Chicago to the Twin Cities, Detroit, Cleveland and St. Louis. Completing this network will require a multi-decade building boom on a scale unseen since the development of the Interstate Highway System 70 years ago.
The Biden Administration is committed to developing a robust high-speed rail supply chain across the U.S. The Federal Railroad Administration is working with high-speed rail project sponsors to ensure that the vast majority of the materials and components required to build these systems are made in America.
Notably, the most advanced high-speed rail projects in the country are working with organized labor to ensure that the construction, maintenance and operations jobs created by these projects are well-paid and covered by strong labor standards.
Union workers are building California High Speed Rail and will also build the Brightline West project, connecting Las Vegas and Southern California. Thirteen railroad unions have signed an agreement with Brightline West to maintain and operate the high-speed system. In California’s Central Valley, a rural area long affected by high unemployment and poverty, the California High-Speed Rail Project has created more than 11,000 union jobs, with more than 70 percent of them going to men and women from disadvantaged communities.
Unquestionably, high-speed rail is a major opportunity for a wide swath of organized labor. The biggest nationwide infrastructure building project in seven decades will grow the labor movement as a whole. A new industry is being created before our eyes.
Building a high-speed rail system is not a walk in the park. Project sponsors must raise tens of billions of dollars in funding, secure extensive right-of-way and environmental permits, and overcome fierce political opposition. The transportation and building trades are fighting hard to launch high-speed rail in America, but we’ll need an even bigger army to finish the job.
Over two dozen countries — including Morocco, Taiwan, Spain and the U.K. — already have high-speed rail systems. It’s time America finally joined them. On this Labor Day, let’s roll up our sleeves and commit to building the world-class, nationwide high-speed rail network the American people deserve.
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