» Damage to the North River tunnels could cut off most rail service into the nation’s center unless a new link is built soon.
There are many cities where rail lines serve an important purpose: They help connect important destinations; they reduce congestion on particularly intensely used corridors; they concentrate development and produce agglomeration benefits. These benefits are useful in making those cities more livable, economically vibrant places.
But only in certain cities — the largest, most densely developed places, particularly those with geographical constraints on growth — are those rail lines essential to making the metropolitan economy work. In New York City, there is no question that this is true; the region’s subway and commuter rail lines carry the bulk of peak flow into the Manhattan business districts thanks to the ability of trains to handle upwards of 40,000 people per hour on each line. Without those lines, people simply wouldn’t be able to get to work.*
Given the city’s reliance on those rail lines,
Continue reading With no new rail tunnel on the horizon under the Hudson, New York faces a looming transport crisis »
» Coupling real estate investment with the construction of new transit lines is the future, but the conditions need to be right.
Public development and ownership of the transportation system in the United States provided some broad, important social benefits that would not have been possible had our governments left it in the hands of the private sector. The downfall of the public transit and rail industries between the 1930s and 1970s throughout the country (itself partly a consequence of government investment in roads) was due to the fact that those services were no longer profitable. Government intervention through takeover of bankrupt lines kept those services operating and ensured the continuing existence of what is truly an essential public service in our major metropolitan areas.
Yet with the governments takeover of transit services, our regions lost a powerful skill that private transportation providers a century ago used well: Connecting new development with transit investments. The history of
Continue reading How broadly applicable is the All Aboard Florida development strategy? »
» The Obama Administration hopes to invest almost $40 billion in new and improved passenger rail infrastructure over the next five years. Good luck getting that through Congress.
It’s an annual spectacle. The President releases his budget. The budget proposes a huge expansion in spending on surface transportation, particularly in high-speed rail. Administration figures testify on Capitol Hill, hoping to raise the specter of infrastructure failure if nothing is done. The Congress responds lackadaisically, with Democrats arguing that something should be done and Republicans doing everything they can to prevent a cent more from being spent, and ultimately no one agrees to much of anything other than a repetition of the past year’s mediocre investments.
Will things be different this year?
The question is particularly relevant because the U.S. Government’s rail investment program — its authorization for allocating funds to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will expire this year. Legislation supporting the FRA, as
Continue reading The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program »
» Amtrak, as always, is being targeted for privatization by conservatives. But what approach leads to optimized public benefit?
Over the past few weeks, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) has convened a series of hearings on the failures of Amtrak, America’s independent — but fully federally owned — national rail operator. Mr. Mica has used the meetings to wage an ideological crusade against the railway, arguing that it is too inefficient and expensive to continue receiving subsidies. Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has also advocated selling Amtrak.
Democrats have mostly shot back, arguing that privatizing the agency would result in a significant reduction in services provided and increase ticket costs.
Here is the confusing truth about Amtrak, however: The rail agency, fully government-owned, is in many ways already a privatized operation that receives federal subsidies. The organization does not seem to have the larger public’s interests in
Continue reading Revisiting Privatization in Intercity Rail »
» Continued investment in the U.K.’s rail network comes at a considerable cost, but spending on existing services will complement planned high-speed rail route and further recent ridership increases.
Opposition to the United Kingdom’s second high-speed rail line, the £17 33 billion* connection between London and Birmingham called HS2, has been stewing for years. Critics of the line — much like opponents to rail programs in the U.S. — suggest that the project’s benefits do not justify its enormous cost (both monetarily and in terms of its effects on the rural landscapes trains will pass through) and that other investments on existing lines would be more effective.
While the U.K.’s Conservative-led coalition government, itself teetering and facing a double-dip recession, continues to maintain its support for the HS2 program, it has not limited its public investments just to that line, and this week it announced a £9.4 billion ($14.6 billion) scheme
Continue reading UK Ramps Up Intercity Rail Investments »