USHSR President & CEO Andy Kunz kicked off the conference by providing background of the United States HSR front. The vision is a 17,000-mile network for the United States with trains reaching speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. It’s meant to be a national electric project to revive the economy by creating jobs, reducing our dependency on oil and reducing our carbon footprint.
The estimated cost is $600 billion, or $30 billion per year. Kunz pointed out,” We already spend more than that on transportation; it’s just changing the way we invest in transportation.”
The challenges we face are there is a lot of confusion about what high speed really is and which projects are truly high-speed; there is a well-funded negative campaign against high-speed rail by think tanks, the oil industry and others; there is a lack of a dedicated funding source; there is lack of broad support in congress; the benefits of HSR are not clearly articulated and aren’t always consistent; there are long lead times before the public will see results; and there needs to be an organized, national campaign.
Energy independence is an economic and social emergency, he said. “American oil consumption is extremely wasteful.” America has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy because we build wastefully: spread out and built primarily for auto use. “We consume 20 million barrels of oil every day directly for transportation.”
A fully loaded 6-car train can substitute for nearly 100 city blocks of moving cars, he pointed out. And, while a single subway line can deliver 60,000 to 80,000 people per hour per track, a superhighway can only deliver 2,400 cars per hour per lane.
Mineta Transportation Institute Executive Director Rod Diridon stressed, “We are creating a new industry for America.” And in doing so, he said it’s important to remember the disadvantaged business enterprises and the small businesses. “It’s something that is imperative to maintain as we go into the contracting.”
He showed attendees a book that was recently published on the Golden Gate Bridge, which celebrates its 75th birthday on Sunday. He said it’s interesting to look at a project that:
- Was a major public works project
- Had never been done before in the United States
- Had no funding up front
- Had a huge price tag attached to it
- Was to be built during a depression when there was no money
- Where there was at one point 2,300 individual lawsuits against the project
- Where there was political opposition from the governor, mayor of San Francisco and legislators up and down the state
- Was unanimously opposed by the environmental community
But no one today can imagine how we could function without the Golden Gate Bridge. How could there have been all of these questions and opposition to building it?
Diridon said, “We have to remember those past challenges as we look at this challenge.” He continued, “That project took leadership. It was built by community leaders that said it was time to do it.”
He cited various studies done over the years that illustrate high-speed rail would be beneficial to the state of California and he asked, “How many times do we have to hear that high-speed rail is good for the state?
“We need jobs in this state. We need mobility. We need to move away from petroleum-based and carbon-based energy.”
He also said this issue has become partisan and it is a “fish-or-cut bait issue,” telling legislators, “If you vote for this we will love you forever. If you don’t vote for it, we don’t want you anymore.
“It has to be clear and you have to be that direct.” He stressed, “This is one of those issues where if it doesn’t happen, by golly we need new leaders in the state of California.”