While the Northeast Corridor doesn’t represent true high speed rail currently, Mica says it is the United State’s best chance of success. “This is the only rail corridor the United States and Amtrak own, almost in its entirety. The rest of the nation’s passenger rail runs over lines owned by the freight railroads. The existing fixed transit connections and dense population over a 365-mile distance also make it the ideal location and corridor length for high-speed,” he says.
Upgrading the Northeast Corridor to high-speed rail would alleviate significant highway and airway congestion. “Approximately 75 percent of the nation’s chronically delayed flights emanate from the overcrowded airspace surrounding New York City,” Mica points out.
Mica is unimpressed by Amtrak’s attempts to effectively and efficiently develop and operate passenger rail service, despite being the exclusive intercity operator over the busiest passenger rail corridor in the United States.
“The time has come to look for an alternative to Amtrak’s monopoly over Northeast Corridor service and consider plans to bring true high speed rail service to this critical national asset. The private sector should be given the opportunity to help the United States realize the true potential of this valuable transportation asset. If our nation is going to successfully develop high-speed rail, the Northeast Corridor must be where we focus our efforts.”
Governor Rejected Projects
Mica says he supports developing cost-effective high-speed rail in regions where it makes sense. While he was encouraged initially by the Administration’s support for developing high-speed rail, he has found the implementation of the program since then disappointing.
“Instead of focusing on just a few projects with the best chance for success, limited resources were scattered among 78 projects. Seventy-six of these were slow-speed Amtrak projects for modest improvements to existing service. Private sector resources and expertise were not effectively leveraged. The one region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense, the Northeast Corridor, was essentially ignored, Mica says. “Large-scale projects that were selected were rejected by their states’ governors. The only project of the 78 with any chance of becoming a real high-speed system – the California project — is in jeopardy. I cannot imagine a worse attempt to develop this modern mode of transportation.”
Projects in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin which had been awarded money were rejected by their respective governors. According to Mica, none of these proposed projects would have resulted in a true high-speed system. “The Florida project would have met the current legal standard for high speed, but the threshold set in U.S. law is low compared to other world-class systems,” he says.
The Ohio project would have averaged only 39 mph, a far cry from true high-speed rail.
“It’s not surprising that states rejected funds for these projects,” says Mica.” While this funding will be redirected to other potential projects, we have lost some credibility with potential partners, which may make the development of high-speed rail more difficult.”
Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, sees it a different way. “I think they thought they were going to make a big political statement, a big anti-rail statement but all it did was piss everyone off. There are a lot of really mad people in Florida — business leaders, students, across the board the gamut of everyone and their brother is mad as hell in Florida.”
California’s approach to planning its high-speed rail system in unique in that it isn’t guided by the state department of transportation; instead the guidelines are laid out by Proposition 1-A, which is a voter approved measure that was passed in 2008.
“It was a voter approved bond measure in 2008, and it specifically outlined where high-speed rail would connect, minimal operating times, how the system would be financed, operated, etc. It’s quite a lengthy guideline in terms of the structure behind the planning of the high-speed rail system in California,” explains California High Speed Rail Authority press secretary Rachel Wall.