The Case for Not-Quite-So-High-Speed-Rail

Regular readers know I’ve been preoccupied with high-speed rail for a while, because of its unique national benefits. We’re talking about a public investment that can boost economic development, create a lot of jobs, foster innovation, relieve crowded roads, and even reduce emissions.

As it turns out, Republicans have proven to be quite unreceptive to boosting economic development, creating a lot of jobs, fostering innovation, relieving crowded roads, and reducing emissions, and the Obama administration’s HSR ambitions have been curtailed by GOP opposition at the state and federal level.

Phillip Longman has an interesting new piece in the print edition of the Washington Monthly, offering some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, Republicans have largely succeeded, at least for now, in killing a sound infrastructure plan. The good news is, the Obama administration is moving forward with a credible alternative. Here’s the editor’s new summary of the story:

Advocates of passenger rail in America were understandably depressed earlier this year after several newly-elected Republican governors rejected billions of dollars in federal stimulus grants for high speed rail. But in the months since, the Obama administration has done something interesting with the money the GOP governors turned down. It has diverted those dollars to other states, not for high speed rail projects but for upgrades to boost the speed, frequency, and on-time performance of conventional passenger lines.

In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman argues that this new strategy of building “fast enough” rail turns out to be exactly what the country needs. Cheap, reliable, and politically feasible passenger trains, the kind that are still the backbone of Europe’s superlative rail system, could transform inter-state travel in America, boost the fortunes of “flyover” cities, and build the public constituency that will be needed to make faster, more expensive bullet trains a reality in the future.

Read “The Case for Not-Quite-So-High-Speed-Rail” here.