US yet to bite bullet on shift to fast trains

2021-03-23 12:05:06

  US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks to Amtrak employees during a visit at Union Station in Washington, on Feb 5, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] The United States has talked a good game when it comes to high-speed rail, but the best-laid plans usually end up derailed. Now new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says he wants the nation to be a leader in bullet trains. Speaking on Thursday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, held virtually, Buttigieg said he saw opportunities to build out high-speed and other passenger rail services not only in coastal, Democratic areas in the Northeast and California, but in Republican states as well. He said it could reduce dependence on cars, create jobs and help the environment. But he acknowledged he "can't do it alone" without major federal investment and support from Congress. The administration of US President Joe Biden is expected to roll out an infrastructure plan soon that is expected to include funding for high-speed rail. "I just don't know why people in other countries ought to have better train service or more investment in high-speed train service than Americans do," Buttigieg told MSNBC in February. Trains are generally considered high speed if they run at least 250 kilometers per hour. "The US High Speed Rail Association, or USHSR, and its members agree, and are ready, willing, and able to help design, build, and operate America's state-of-the-art national high speed rail, or HSR, network," Andy Kunz, president of the advocacy group based in Washington, DC, said in a news release recently. Uphill road The US will have an uphill road. By comparison, China's investment in high-speed rail is $650 billion, while in the United States, it's $3 billion, according to the USHSR. The US rail association has proposed to the Biden administration a number of high-speed corridors to include in the new infrastructure strategy, which would facilitate passenger travel while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The American High-Speed Rail Act, introduced by four Democratic representatives, would provide $41 billion over five years in Federal Railroad Administration grants for high-speed projects and offer incentives for $38 billion in nonfederal funding. It would prioritize grants for regions not served by airlines. Supporters of the bill say it would better connect so-called "economic megaregions" and reduce traffic congestion. They also said it would create at least 2.6 million jobs over five years in construction and other sectors. High-speed rail projects in Texas, Florida and other states have proceeded despite the coronavirus pandemic. Agencies contributed to this story.