More on the Light Rail Economy
Beata’s post of July 20 notes the fact that although the administration’s stimulus plan includes some $8 billion in funding for rail projects, demand for the funds is high and those regions with rail projects planned will be in the best position to compete for the available funds.
A recent AP article entitled “Stimulus Watch: Foreign Firms Eye Obama Rail Plan” looks at the available funds from another angle that highlights one of the impacts of the United States’ post-WWII highway-centric transportation policy.
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Europe and Japan have extensive high-speed rail systems and well-developed industries to support them. The only truly high-speed rail service in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which operates between Washington and Boston. The trains can reach speeds of 150 mph, but average less than 100 mph. Some trains in Europe and Asia average 150 mph or more.
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The administration’s plan requires hundreds of new passenger trains. Foreign companies figure to be the initial front-runners because iconic U.S. train builders such as Pullman Co. in Chicago and Budd Co. in Philadelphia died out more than 30 years ago with America’s shift to highway and air travel.
**CLICK HERE TO READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE.** The fact that U.S. firms may not be the most competitive in bidding to provide rail infrastructure — particularly the rail cars themselves — by no means outweighs the other benefits of increased investment in American rail infrastructure. It does however, highlight the fact that a more balanced approach to transportation policy and investment in the last half century would have left U.S. firms with less ground to make up.