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Go Big: Rep. Seth Moulton Talks with the Alliance About Building a National HSR Network

September 09, 2020

This is a tipping-point moment when action by advocates for high-speed rail can have a profound impact. That’s especially true of Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who unveiled his vision for a national high-speed rail network in May. Moulton recently described his plan, asked for feedback and support, and fielded questions from Alliance members in a video conference call. Watch it here.

“The economics are very clear,” said Moulton, who mounted a presidential bid last year. “What a lot of Americans don’t realize is that we are not living as well as we could—we’re not as productive a society, an economy—because we don’t have [good] transportation options. And if we just simply leveled the playing field and gave high-speed rail a chance to compete against the other modes, then we’d see high-speed rail doing really well.”

Moulton calls for investing $205 billion in high-speed rail over five years. “We’ve never had this kind of investment in high-speed rail,” he said. “But we’ve certainly had it in our airline system and in our highway system. So, let’s level the playing field and let free competition have a say and give people the freedom to choose.”

Moulton’s plan would create flexibility in how high-speed lines are financed. “Frankly, there aren’t enough [resources] in the federal and state governments to fund high-speed rail,” Moulton said. “We need to leverage public-private partnerships and make it easier to access loan and grant programs.”

The plan would also focus on building a truly national network—versus just the high-profile and potentially most profitable lines in densely populated corridors. “This isn’t just a California and a Northeastern thing,” Moulton said. “This is something that every state should have a stake in. That’s one of the reasons the interstate highway system was so successful. They got political buy-in for the system by promising [rural states] that they would get a piece as well. So that’s where we’re coming from.”

Moulton’s ideas underscore the principles that F.K. Plous outlines in this Alliance blog post. Plous writes that “the federal government was essential to the creation of the highway and airways infrastructures not only because it alone had the resources to fund them, but because federal leadership was essential to making the systems equally useful and equally accessible to all areas of the nation and to all classes of travelers and shippers.”

The upshot is that “the slow, sparse, unreliable and fragmented U.S. passenger-train service of today will not evolve into an effective passenger-rail program unless good trains serve all states and all routes are linked into a national network through regional hubs offering conveniently scheduled connections. No more fragmentation!”

The crucial thing—and possibly the hardest part—is getting the first line up and running. “Showing people in states across the country what a difference it would make to have high-speed service could be quite transformational,” Moulton said. He singled out the line that Texas Central is building between Dallas and Houston, which is scheduled to begin operation sometime in the mid-2020s. The same is true for a line being built by Brightline between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Having a functional high-speed line in the U.S. will not only demonstrate the technology’s power and viability. It will help break down partisan divisions.

“One of the myths is that this is only good for blue states,” Moulton said. “And that it’s only Democrats who live in cities and ride trains already who will benefit from high-speed rail. Showing that high-speed rail is successful in deep-red Texas will completely dismiss that argument."

Moulton has not yet translated the plan into a bill. He’s seeking feedback, refining it, and building a base of support before writing legislation. Find a detailed summary of the plan here.

You can help build momentum for HSR by contacting your legislators, sharing Moulton’s plan, and asking them to join him in pushing for a national network of high-speed trains. Let them know that every region of the country will benefit from having fast, frequent, and affordable trains—and from the economic boost created by building the network.

“It’s sad that this has become a partisan issue,” Moulton said. “And that’s one of the things we need to change to get this passed. We’re trying to get a broad, bipartisan base of stakeholders.”

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