For nearly 100 years, America was the unquestioned global leader in passenger rail. The advent of commercial aviation and the interstate highway system changed the equation and we became a nation addicted to our cars. In the face of this stiff competition, America's passenger rail system faded into disuse and disrepair.
Today, however, things are beginning to change. The population concentration in our urban areas is increasing, in particular on the Eastern Seaboard and the Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York City. In 2006, the U.S. population reached 300 million people. And by 2039, we are expected to break the 400 million mark. That growth will only bring more congestion to our already overloaded roads and airways.
High-speed rail is essential to our nation's transportation future and our best hope for easing the pressure on our congested highways and airspace. There is simply no better way to move large numbers of people from city-center to city-center than on high-speed rail.
The United States is far behind the international curve on high-speed rail. Europe has been at work for decades on an impressive high-speed rail network. Japan is working on a new train that will carry passengers at up to 310 miles per hour between Osaka and Tokyo, augmenting their existing world-renowned bullet train fleet. China is spending nearly $300 billion to develop 8,000 miles of new high-speed track by 2020. That's enough rail line to go from Hartford to Los Angeles three times over. It is clear the time for investment in high-speed rail and our intercity passenger rail system is now.
However, instead of focusing on key corridors, scarce federal dollars have been spread too thin among too many different projects — leading to incremental progress that could slow our already delayed entrance into high-speed rail. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was the failure to invest in the Northeast Corridor, which for the most part was kept out of the federal selection process.
Without question, the Northeast Corridor represents the best opportunity for true American high-speed rail. The corridor is home to four of the 10 most populous metro regions in the nation. The region is home to 18 percent of the nation's population living in just 2 percent of its land mass. Population density in the corridor is higher than anywhere else in the nation and higher than nearly anywhere in Europe. The 100-mile radius around Hartford is the most densely populated area in the country, and certain areas of I-95 running through Connecticut may be the most congested stretch of interstate in the nation.
Although I believe we must first focus on main rail corridors that make sense, such as the Northeast Corridor, we should also develop additional lines and routes that create increased connectivity to the system and further grow ridership. It strikes me that New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line is exactly such a route, and Congress should take a close look at developing its full potential.
As the chairman of the railroads subcommittee, I believe American high-speed rail must grow organically. This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue; it's a matter of securing America's future prosperity. I am pleased to have been able to join with my friend and colleague Congressman John Larson this week to discuss the promising future of high-speed rail in Connecticut with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, and I look forward to working with him as a leader in passenger rail in the House of Representatives.
U.S. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, a Republican, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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