Even with all of today’s technological advances, the headaches tied to driving and flying haven’t gone away. In the U.S. annually, there are some 43,000 motor-vehicle crash-related deaths. Add to this the more than 40-plus hours on average that drivers (along with their passengers) traveling this country’s thoroughfares each year are stuck in traffic. Not to mention the gridlock conditions that often impact domestic aviation. It’s a real problem.
Many schemes have both been proposed and put into place to try to counteract that which has negatively affected us while we travel and is slowing us down. And, that’s exactly what’s been happening.
When you think about it, Americans are very heavily dependent upon the automobile and airplane to satisfy basic travel needs. In this country for most, trains are often thought of as the “last-choice” mode. That and busses.
Limiting most travel to two modes — car and plane — when more equitable distribution among three modes — car, plane and train — could do much and go far to lessen the severity of those negative impacts that are currently making domestic travel a more and more unpleasant human experience.
The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI)* at San Jose State University among others, suggest, in effect, that U.S. travel need not be this way.
Enter high-speed rail.
In his 2022 book, Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, Paris Marx covers quite a lot of ground. In no uncertain terms upon his getting deep into discussion, in essence, says, the objective should be to employ high-speed trains to link, within regions, the bigger cities initially, after which, broader inter-regional high-speed-rail networks can be established. This, Marx says, should not be as a replacement to conventional rail-passenger service but, instead, would function as an auxiliary, complementary or supplementary so-called (in my own words) “add-on” to said existing, conventional offerings.** Such concomitant high-speed-train infrastructure, provided it is patronized sufficiently enough, would bring tremendous benefit to transportation as a whole.
Besides helping to alleviate traffic-congestion issues both on the ground and in the air, adding high-speed rail service would be a job creator, an engine to spark economic activity and as a catalytic converter so-to-speak to remove substantial amounts of emissions from the atmosphere.
The MTI, via a recent study, it would appear, would concur.
In a related press release the organization wrote: “An increasing number of studies suggest that high-speed rail (HSR) could have many economic and environmental benefits for the U.S. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) perspective, The Economic and Environmental Potential of High-Speed Rail, outlines these potential benefits, which include job growth and increased economic activity; creation of an entirely new domestic manufacturing base; station area development and improved regional connectivity; and reduced GHG emissions and better land use.”
The MTI goes on to point out that to qualify as high-speed, speeds must reach at least 150 miles per hour and then went on to mention that other countries around the world, particularly in Asia and Europe maintain viable high-speed train systems.
And, further noted other benefit highlights, such as:
• Job Creation and Economic Output
For example, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) estimates that HSR has generated an estimated 74,000 to 80,000 job years, $5.6 billion to $6.0 billion in labor income, and $15 billion to $16 billion in economic output between 2006 and 2022.
• Domestic Manufacturing
As of 2015, it was estimated that the rail manufacturing industry supports 90,000 jobs and that more than 750 companies in at least 39 states manufactured components for passenger rail and transit.
• Station Area Development, Regional Connectivity, and Smart Growth
Multiple studies show that HSR in the U.S. could connect megaregions, forming the corridors of housing, employment, and recreation in more densely populated areas of the country.
• Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reduction
One study estimates high-speed rail in the U.S. can save up to 800 million tons of CO2 emissions over a 40-year period, or approximately 2 trillion miles traveled in a typical 22 MPG gas-based car.
• Cost Savings Associated with Foregone Infrastructure Improvements
One study found that it would cost an estimated $122-199 billion to provide the equivalent highway and airport capacity that the San Francisco to Los Angeles high-speed rail network would provide.
The MTI said press-release discussion rounded out with reference to Amtrak’s Acela service which is limited to its 457-mile-long Boston, Massachusetts-to-Washington, D.C. corridor where, on portions of the line, the Acela trains are able reach 150 mph speeds.
Mentioned were other domestic proposed or planned HSR programs, meanwhile, and the California project, the construction effort on that one having already begun.
This information was followed in the release with this one last message:
“This paper provides important insight into the impacts of these and future HSR projects, which with additional research and policy, can help the U.S. leverage these benefits.”
* “All Aboard the High-Speed Rail Revolution: MTI’s Perspective on Economic and Environmental Gains,” Oct. 12, 2023 Mineta Transportation press release.
** Paris Marx, Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, 2022, Verso, p. 219