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Brown: U.S. Should Fund High-Speed Rail

The expansion of passenger, high-speed and freight rail is critical to the economic growth of the United States. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, my goal is to have high-speed, intercity passenger and commuter rail lines connecting nationwide to enhance and improve our systems of transportation.

A robust passenger rail system in America will go a long way toward solving some of our nation’s economic, energy, environmental and transportation challenges, as well as create thousands of jobs. These benefits, however, do not come without a price tag, and experience in other countries makes it clear that a successful high-speed rail system will require consistent, committed funding.

On June 21, 2009, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unveiled a draft bill to reauthorize the surface transportation program. The bill included a proposal for $50 billion over six years for the development of high-speed rail.

It has become clear that Americans need transportation alternatives. Congestion is crippling our major cities; even the infrastructure in our small towns is aging at an alarming rate. In 2007, traffic congestion cost $87.2 billion, including 4.2 billion hours of delays and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel in our nation’s metropolitan areas. The average driver in 28 metropolitan regions experienced 40 or more hours of delay per year. Twenty-seven years ago, only Los Angeles experienced that level of congestion. Families are losing what precious little time they have together because of time spent in traffic going to and from work, picking up the kids at day care or running the endless errands that seem a part of life in today’s society.

We cannot just focus on building more roads. We have to find broader solutions to address our transportation problems. That is why we must develop high-speed rail in the U.S. and build on our intercity passenger rail systems such as Amtrak.

It is no secret that the U.S. lags woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing high-speed rail. Japan, the nation that unveiled the world’s first high-speed rail system in 1964, has a 1,350-mile network and is already at work building a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of more than 300 mph.

France, which holds the world speed record for steel wheels on steel rail — 357 mph — used its high-speed rail system to pull entire regions from isolation, ignite growth and remake quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. After inaugurating its high-speed rail system in 1981, France developed a 1,180-mile network and plans to add 1,500 miles. The system carries a remarkable 100 million passengers annually.

Spain changed the demographics of entire regions with its high-speed rail line from Madrid to Seville, which opened in 1992. The line is so successful that more people travel between the two cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. Spain plans to spend more than $100 billion over the next decade to build Europe’s largest high-speed rail network. The project will put nearly everyone in Spain within 30 miles of a train station and will create tens of thousands of jobs.

Earlier this year, China announced a plan to expand its high-speed rail system to a network of more than 16,000 miles by 2020. In this year alone, China has poured more than $50 billion into this system.

A few years ago, that type of financial commitment would have been difficult to secure in the U.S.; instead of providing Amtrak with the funds that it needed to get back on track, the Bush administration called for Amtrak’s bankruptcy.

But with the enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (Pub.L. 110-432) in the 110th Congress and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Pub.L. 111-5) in this Congress, America is on the verge of a new rail renaissance — a transformative moment in the history of transportation.

Just last month, I led a Whistle Stop Rail Tour to promote high-speed and intercity passenger rail in the U.S. We started in Washington, D.C., traveled to upstate New York and ended up in Chicago, where we conducted a major hearing on rail issues.

All along the way we saw stimulus dollars at work to improve our transportation infrastructure and create jobs for the local workforce. And in upstate New York specifically, rail manufacturing could very well replace many of the good jobs that were sent overseas.

Everywhere we went there was very strong support for Amtrak service and high-speed rail. The only complaints I heard were that there wasn’t enough money for rail and that it wasn’t coming fast enough.

Clearly, we need to get serious about funding high-speed rail. With just $1 billion budgeted for fiscal 2011, we need to find a dedicated revenue source so that states, operators and manufacturers aren’t afraid to make investments in infrastructure and manpower.

As we begin to develop and reauthorize the next surface transportation bill, it is critical that the need for additional rail capacity be addressed. There is no one solution that will solve rail congestion. New and creative ideas from government and the private sector must be utilized to increase and improve freight rail capacity.

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

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