Putting America’s Transportation System on Track

Source: Paul Weinstein Jr., Progressive Policy Institute, September 2008

While the laws of supply and demand will undoubtedly correct some of the problems the airline industry faces, the future for air travelers is not so bright. Most economists agree that airline mergers (such as the recently announced Delta-Northwest agreement), fewer flights, and more fuel-efficient planes will eventually help put the industry on stronger financial ground. Unfortunately, these very measures will also mean higher prices, less choice, and fewer amenities for passengers.

In the short term, passengers have two choices: fly less, or pay more for an inferior service. But if the United States is serious about fixing the air-travel mess — not to mention congestion on our roadways — there is a real, long-term solution: high-speed rail (HSR).

For years, efforts to pass legislation that would make a significant investment in high-speed rail have been halted by a number of factors: the current administration’s ideological opposition to government investments in infrastructure; the return of deficits; the lack of a direct source of funding; the hostility of the airline industry; and a wasteful and distracting debate over the future of Amtrak.

With the airline industry cutting routes and raising fares, the cost of a gallon of gas racing past $4, and the unemployment rate rising, the time for a major investment in high-speed rail may finally be here.

In this policy brief, the Progressive Policy Institute provides the economic, environmental, and transportation arguments for HSR. In addition, we propose a plan that will:

• Target investment where demand is — regional and commuter rail;
• Build five new regional high-speed rail corridors; and
• Establish a Rail Trust Fund and identify deficit-neutral sources of direct funding.

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