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10 good-news stories—and ideas for building a better future—we published in 2020

December 31, 2020

Photo provided by Brightline West which recently began geological borings in preparation for construction in California and Nevada.

Despite everything, there was a lot of good news about passenger rail this year. High-speed rail projects in Nevada, Texas, Florida, California and the Pacific Northwest made significant progress. A member of Congress introduced a bill to invest more than $200 billion in a national HSR network. Amtrak moved closer to rolling out trains that can run at 186 mph (though the maximum track speed is 160 mph in the NE Corridor). And President-elect Joe Biden promised to invest heavily in trains.

The Alliance is tracking these—and many more—positive stories. Like many nonprofits, we face serious challenges as a result of the pandemic. If you value the work we do and would like to see it continue in 2021, please show your support by donating right now.

There’s never been a more exciting and promising moment for this work. We aim for a reimagined transportation paradigm and work for the day when everyone can ride fast, frequent, affordable trains across town or across the country.

With your help, we’re making steady progress toward that goal. Here are some of the best pieces we published in 2020 that prove the point.

10. The hills are alive with the sound of high-speed rail. Countries all over the world are investing heavily in tunnel projects that will improve their high-speed trains. For example, tunnels are being built through the Alps to expand trade and increase tourism across Central Europe. There’s an important lesson for California in this story.

9. How trains can survive—and thrive—during and after the pandemic. Passenger trips on commuter trains increased 4 percent between 2017 and 2019. With more frequent service, better federal policies, and a few tweaks, we can restore commuter rail’s pre-pandemic momentum as we move past the Covid-19 crisis. And we must. Public transit is not only safe; it’s foundational to a better future.

8. California is getting a massive economic boost from high-speed rail. The U.S. should, too. Phase 1 of California’s high-speed rail project (running through the Central Valley) will create an estimated 624,000 job years and generate $46 billion in labor income. Research shows that infrastructure investments have the most impact during economic downturns. According to one report, “a 1 percent increase in public investment would boost economic output by 3.4 percent during a recession and about 2.3 percent during an expansion.” The U.S. needs to create jobs during this economic downturn. What are we waiting for?

7. Amtrak is in crisis. That could be the best thing that ever happened to it. We’re in a moment of fundamentally rethinking systems and institutions. Amtrak must be front and center in the conversation. Fortunately, it’s begun taking some small steps toward reinventing itself. Testing is underway on a new Northeast Corridor fleet of trains that can run at maximum speeds of 186 mph (versus the current maximum of 150 mph). The entire fleet of 28 trains is expected to be in operation in 2022.

6. Michigan deserves vastly better train service. The Alliance collaborated with the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers on a new vision for the state’s rail system. Our plan would make trips to every part of the state—as well as Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto—easy, fast, and affordable. And Michigan Central Station, which is now being restored by Ford Motor Co., would be the heart of a high-speed corridor stretching from Chicago to Toronto.

5. Eight principles for establishing a U.S. passenger rail system. Highway and civil-aviation programs in the U.S. offer plenty of insights about advocating for a modern, passenger-rail system.

4. Rep. Seth Moulton talks with the Alliance about building a national HSR network. Just weeks before he introduced legislation in the House to fund the creation of a national high-speed rail network, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) joined the Alliance for a video chat. His House bill calls for investing $205 billion in high-speed rail over five years. “We’ve never had this kind of investment in high-speed rail,” Moulton said. Find details here.

3. 2020 election gives big push to growing momentum for U.S. high-speed rail. In his campaign platform, President-elect Joe Biden promised to “spark the second great railroad revolution.” Specifically, Biden endorsed a nationwide network approach to high-speed rail in his plan for fighting climate change. “Across the Midwest and the Great West,” the document said, the U.S. “will begin the construction of an end-to-end high speed rail system that will connect the coasts, unlocking new, affordable access for every American.” The result will be the “cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world—for both passengers and freight.”

2. Bullet trains! Check out our new page summarizing the history and current status of bullet trains around the globe. At our blog, we’ve been tracking progress on several U.S. projects. They include the Texas Central line and a proposed new Brightline train from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Construction is expected to begin on both in 2021. Both are expected to be in operation by the mid 2020s. Brightline is also extending its line in Florida from West Palm Beach to Orlando. Running at maximum speeds of about 125 mph, the trains will begin operation in 2022. And in the Pacific Northwest, a report commissioned by Microsoft, Washington, Oregon, and the province of British Columbia recommended the creation of an independent body to plan the system. The line would run from Vancouver (B.C.) to Portland, via Seattle, at speeds up to 250 mph.

1. Biden promised to invest big in trains. This should be his Day One agenda. Nominating a rail-friendly former mayor, Pete Buttigieg, as his Transportation Secretary was a promising start. President-elect Joe Biden can take three more immediate steps toward delivering on his rail-related promises: 1. Commit to California’s high-speed rail line. 2. Get Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Gateway Program underway. 3. Restore daily service to Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Big-picture, Biden must set priorities and push forward projects that build momentum for big mid-term and long-range wins. Check out our suggestions for Biden’s mid-range priorities here.

Please help keep this momentum going by joining us today. Here’s to a 2021 that’s healthy, prosperous—and full of more progress for high-speed rail!

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Thank you for moving this vision forward.