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Biden promised to invest big in trains. This should be his Day One agenda.

November 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden made high-speed rail central to his infrastructure plan and promised on the campaign trail to invest in “rail, rail, rail.” He can take three steps to start delivering immediately on his promises.

  1. Commit to California’s San Francisco to Los Angeles high-speed rail line.
    That means restoring the $929 million grant is withdrawn last year and instructing the Federal Railroad Administration to fully engage in the project.  But clearing away roadblocks is just a start. The California project has plenty of critics. It needs a strong advocate in the White House from day one. Biden should focus on the thousands of good jobs the project creates; how it’s part of a big-picture plan to improve access to affordable transportation across the state; and the way it will slash greenhouse gas emissions.
     
  2. Get Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Gateway Program underway.
    It’s still in the planning stages after the Trump administration ruled that it didn’t qualify for federal funding.  Biden’s team should reverse that ruling and push the project forward, right out of the gate. The payoffs will be huge. The project will create four mainline tracks between Newark, NJ, and New York’s Penn Station, doubling the number of passenger trains that run under the Hudson River. Big-picture, it will resolve bottlenecks that delay trains all through the Northeast Corridor.
     
  3. Restore daily service to Amtrak’s long-distance routes—and add balance to the board.
    The recent service reductions harm many rural areas, and they perpetuate the false idea that those routes are a drag on the broader system.  They do pull their own weight and they’re the building blocks of a national high-speed rail network.  More generally, Amtrak’s board needs to be reformed.  Biden’s nominations should reflect Amtrak’s geographical diversity and its diverse base of supporters—including labor, environmental and small-business groups.

Broadly, Biden should immediately set priorities and push forward projects that build momentum for big mid-term and long-range wins. Supporting California is key because it’s the best model the U.S. has for planning a transportation system with a big-picture view in mind. We need that same forward thinking at the national level. Similarly, the Gateway Program will not only create good jobs in the near term. It’s the foundation of a transformed transportation system that supports strong, sustainable economic growth. Because of the New York region’s economic and cultural footprint, pulling it off there will have a real impact on national priorities. Our next post will lay out three mid- and long-range goals for the Biden administration to tackle.

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