Connectivity means prosperity

April 30, 2016

By Malcolm Kenton, Trains Magazine

A recent New York Times opinion column by Singaporean public policy professor Parag Khanna echoes what many experts and observers have been saying — that in the current age, the US and other countries are increasingly being organized along the lines of mega-regions and multi-city clusters that disregard state lines and other pre-determined political boundaries. Our political system has yet to catch up with facts on the ground, Khanna argues. If we fail to invest in connecting our mega-regions — and linking surrounding smaller communities and rural areas in with those mega-regions — with modern railways, along with highways and fiber-optic cables, the US will no longer be the world’s superpower, regardless of the billions we continue to lavish upon our military.Website Insert Real Numbers copy

It seems obvious that America’s transportation and infrastructure decisions need to be made on a scale that transcends state lines, as was done when Congress directed the construction of the first transcontinental railroads and the Interstate Highway System. Yet, thanks largely to Section 209 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, we are in a situation where state governments are very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to developing passenger train corridors. Under this law, any intercity passenger rail route that is 750 miles or less (outside of the Boston-Washington spine of the Northeast Corridor, which remains a federal responsibility) must be overseen by, and receive its entire operating subsidy from, one or more state governments.

Some states are investing in developing regional corridors and have visions for their future flourishing. Others are content to provide the bare minimum needed to keep existing service running, and still others lack any passenger rail program. Meanwhile, the federal government retains responsibility for routes exceeding 750 miles in length (currently, Amtrak’s fifteen National Network routes), but also lacks any sort of comprehensive vision for their expansion or improvement.

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