May 19, 2020

Moulton Rolls Out National High-Speed Rail Plan

Policies would get economy back on track by investing $205 billion over five years, creating competition in transportation and giving Americans cleaner, faster, more reliable commutes

WASHINGTON — Today, Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) rolled out a national plan that would invest $205 billion to build a national high-speed rail network. If Congress passed the plan, the most conservative estimates show it will create more than 2.6 million direct jobs over five years across the country and make high-speed rail a competitive option against road and air travel, modes that Congress heavily subsidizes.

Moulton released the plan in a 30-page white paper that includes legislative prescriptions to modernize the nation’s decrepit transportation laws. It is the only comprehensive legislative plan to scale high-speed rail at a national level. Moulton announced the plan in an interview withWired. The full white paper is available for download on Moulton’s website here.

Moulton is presenting the idea as the nation searches for a quick end to an economic crisis that’s robbed 36 million Americans of their jobs and caused Washington to search for big ideas that go beyond providing immediate relief, as Congress’s $3 trillion in emergency spending has done so far.  

Here is an excerpt from Wired’s coverage

ACCUSE REPRESENTATIVE SETH Moulton of loving trains too much at your peril. Yes, the Massachusetts Democrat worked for a time on a high-speed-rail project in Texas, one that is now finally inching towards a groundbreaking ceremony. He’s pressed for a new rail tunnel in Boston. He’s a booster for commuter rail. But ask him why he loves trains, and he’ll correct you, firmly. “It's not that I just like trains so much,” he says. “We should have a transportation system that’s balanced and gives people options.”

On Tuesday, Moulton unveiled an ambitious—and expensive—plan to do just that. In a bill and accompanying white paper, the congressman proposed the federal government spend $205 billion over five years on a national high-speed rail network....The bill would create a unified, national vision of a rail network that could guide future investments, and would iron out regulations, to speed construction. It would encourage private companies to operate the new rail networks, instead of, say, Amtrak, which is projecting a $700 million loss this year. It cites firms like Virgin Trains USA, which runs and hopes to extend a rail line in Florida, and Texas Central Railway, Moulton’s former employer, which is working to build one in the Lone Star State, as models.

Enough with the money stuff and picture this: Dallas to Houston without the 3.5-hour car ride. Chicago to Atlanta, with fewer weather delays and stops in Indianapolis and Chattanooga along the way. Portland to Vancouver at 220 mph. LAX to SFO—the busiest domestic airline route in the US—in under three hours without actually entering the cursed departure or arrival halls. Less pollution (these rail lines would be electric), and fewer deaths (no one has died on the Japanese Shinkansen high-speed rail system in its 55-year history, compared with 36,120 on American roads last year alone). A wide, cushy seat with plenty of legroom, the sun shining through the windows.

The expansive vision is sure to face stiff opposition and test Washington’s appetite for a pricey, infrastructure-based stimulus package designed to counter the pandemic-induced economic downtown.

Read the full article in Wired by clicking here.

The plan will help build a national high-speed rail system by:

  • Investing $41 billion annually in high-speed and higher-speed rail through grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration over 5 years, with incentives for $38 billion or more in nonfederal funding;
  • Expanding metrics used by states and cities for transportation planning to include wider economic benefits for more informed investments;
  • Creating funding flexibility and transit-oriented development incentives for non-federal partners, including state and local transportation agencies and private partners; and
  • Developing comprehensive, performance-based safety regulations and standards for high-speed rail to reduce project costs and expedite development.

If Congress enacts Moulton’s plan, America could reap the following benefits:

  • Better connected economic megaregions along high-speed rail corridors to increase productivity and global competitiveness, with a return on investment that far outweighs the cost of capital investment;
  • A coordinated, national transportation strategy that creates competition and reduces strain on our highway and aviation networks as high-speed rail serves high-volume corridors up to 750 miles;
  • Clean, reliable, and safe transportation from city centers to city centers, with less time in security lines and waiting in terminals, fewer weather disruptions, and no rush-hour traffic;
  • Development of walkable communities and expanded access to housing in urban centers and intermediate communities;
  • Increased national security and exports through increased U.S. independence from imported fuels and competition with China’s use of high-speed rail in its Belt and Road Initiative; and
  • Creation of new American industries, such as manufacturing and high-grade steel production, even communities separated from new transportation corridors.

The full plan is available here.

Moulton has emerged as a leading national advocate for high-speed and commuter rail since he arrived in Congress five years ago. He recently helped secure more than $1 billion for rail transportation in the CARES Act, including $492 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

He was one of the first elected officials in Massachusetts to endorse the North South Rail Link, a plan that would connect commuter lines servicing Boston, increase their reliability and reduce traffic in America’s most gridlocked city. He also commissioned the Harvard Kennedy School to study transportation issues including North South Rail Link’strue cost and the hidden amount that the state spends subsidizing its gridlocked roads. Harvard found it costs Massachusetts residents $64 billion per year in hidden costs to sit in traffic, whether they own a car or not.

In November, Moulton outlined the ways creating competition in transportation could change America’s communities and commutes in an address to the New England Council that focused on rail in his region. 

“...We have to demand more—faster, nicer, better—than we ever have before. Our city’s economy requires it. Our city’s social fabric demands it. It is how we meet the demands of the new economy and unite the Commonwealth in the process. 

A foundational American principle is that we’re all in this together. Imagine if that were truly the case for how we travel around the region—we would all be invested in making it better; we would all be invested in each other...In the 21st century, we’ve lead on innovation in biotech, though Beijing is catching up; we’ve led on health care in America, though we only rank 37th in the world; we’ve led on equality, despite Trump’s efforts to undo it. Let us once again be a model for the country on transportation as well.”