U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has announced a number of new high speed train projects, including a link from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, asking why the US cannot have the sort of rail infrastructure that Japan has.
Buttigieg Announces New High Speed Train Projects, Additional Rail Service
Speaking in Raleigh, North Carolina last week, Buttigieg announced funding for several new and existing routes across the USA:
- Help deliver high-speed rail service in California’s Central Valley
- Create a brand-new high-speed rail corridor between Las Vegas, Nevada, and southern California, serving an estimated 11 million passengers annually
- Make major upgrades to existing conventional rail corridors to better connect Northern Virginia and the Southeast with the Northeast Corridor
- Expand and add frequencies to the Pennsylvania Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
- Extend the Piedmont Corridor in North Carolina north, as part of a higher-speed connection between Raleigh and Richmond, Virginia
- Invest in Chicago Union Station, as an initial step toward future improvements to the critical Midwest corridors hub
- Improve service in Maine, Montana, and Alaska
There are many other projects under consideration as well as part of this latest funding proposal.
Buttigieg was in Japan for the G7 Hiroshima Summit earlier this year, which took place in May 2023, and framed much of his remarks in juxtaposing the USA and Japan:
“You come home thinking, ‘Why can’t we have something like that?’ Especially knowing that they’ve had high-speed rail in some form since the 1960s. And it’s not just Japan, which is famously cutting edge in these regards. In places like North Africa and the Middle East, we’re seeing levels of rail service that are beyond what the U.S. has been able to deliver. So we know we’ve got to change that — and that’s what we’re doing.”
He added that the US should lead in rail, as it once did:
“What’s really exciting for us is that this is a chance to lay out in detail what a future rail network could look like, and put dollars behind developing those routes. The broad vision is to make sure that Americans have excellent choices when it comes to passenger rail travel in a way that we frankly haven’t for, for most of our lifetimes, there was a time when the U.S. led in rail just as we have in aviation and other forms of surface transportation.”
Past high speed rail projects have proved contentious, but Buttigieg thinks this time could be different:
“Giving people an option to go downtown-to-downtown without having to go through airport security, or be behind the wheel of a car is something that, again, when you have a comparable geography in other parts of the world — especially Europe, or Japan — it would be a no-brainer. So let’s make that a no-brainer here.”
I happen to be an advocate for a far vaster rail network in this country, despite our cities and geography being much more spread out than many European and East Asian nations. But if the boondoggle high speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco is any indication, these projects become crippled by cost overruns, environmental impact lawsuits, and eminent domain concerns.
> Read More: How California’s Bullet Train Went Off the Rails
The Biden Administration is partially funding a number of new and existing rail projects in an effort to improve the US rail network. While a laudable goal, unless the same snares can be addressed in this next tranche of funding, I fear the money will quickly disappear with little to show for it. Given that those snares as systemic to to the US system, we can marvel at the Japanese and European rail networks all day long, but that won’t create the political force to move beyond the selfish interests that undermine nearly every rail project in the USA or the geography problem that smaller countries do not share.