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Let's move the conversation back toward investing in trains

February 15, 2018

The Trump administration released its long-awaited “$1.5 trillion” infrastructure proposal this week. It contains no new revenue for transportation. Instead, the plan begins with more than $200 billion “saved” by making drastic cuts to existing infrastructure programs, including long-distance trains. The remaining $1.3 trillion is supposed to come from states and local governments, or private investors.

(Read our 2012 study about long-distance trains and how they form the foundation of a national rail network.)

Although the plan seems to be just as dead-on-arrival as the White House’s previous budget proposals, it has succeeded in moving the conversation in a bad direction. Instead of discussing where it makes sense for the federal government to invest more, we’re reduced to arguing for any level of spending at all. We can’t let fighting for scraps become the way we make infrastructure investment decisions.

We need to move the conversation in the opposite direction: We need to invest more, not less. And we need to invest heavily in passenger rail.

New passenger trains and new track should be a core component of our national infrastructure plan. Dedicating just 1% of an actual $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan—$15 billion—would be enough to buy modern, comfortable and efficient coaches and locomotives to improve and expand current Amtrak service. It would also allow us to build on the momentum of current planning efforts and begin engineering true high-speed tracks in regions beyond the Northeast Corridor and California.

Now is a great time to write and call your elected officials, and be a part of shifting the conversation in this positive direction. Remind them that passenger trains and high-speed rail are especially effective investments and should be priorities, especially in the Midwest. We can improve our passenger trains for a fraction of the cost of adding highway capacity or enlarging airports. Passenger rail can even save us money by reducing the burden on our road and air networks.

Passenger rail works best as part of a dense, interconnected network, and we can’t achieve that robust national network—or even a Midwest network—without significant federal investment. Let's move the conversation back in a positive direction. Contact your elected officials now, and tell them you want more investment—not less—in trains and high-speed rail.

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