May 2020 Member Update
Thank you for your interest in the High Speed Rail Alliance.
Here are quick links to the items referenced in our May 21 member-update letter:
The letter in full
May 21, 2020
Thank you so much for being a vital part of the High Speed Rail Alliance. I hope this letter finds you and yours healthy and safe.
Like everyone, the Alliance is in the midst of a quick pivot as we adapt to the new realities. I’m writing with an update on our status and future.
First, our staff and contractors are all healthy, and we continue our work. Ironically, I’ve been in the office much more than usual lately. Our office is within walking distance of my home, so there are no problems with social distancing. I work remotely a few days a month so that Dylan, our program manager, can tend to administrative tasks.
We’ve taken advantage of the pause in the normal flow of work to reassess our strategic plans and messaging. The most immediate and obvious result is a new round of improvements to our website. Overall, it’s now a more effective tool for building a strong base of support for high-speed rail in North America. In particular, the our Phased Network Approach page is clearer and more compelling than it’s ever been. Please check it out and let us know what you think.
As part of the strategizing process, we’ve also reassessed a few core philosophies to see if they make sense in these changing times. For example:
Premise: Things are better when you meet in person.
This crisis has reinforced the truth that travel will always be important. Video conferences are a useful and necessary tool, but they’re a poor substitute for meeting face to face. And screens can never reproduce the experience of being present with family and friends. So, it’s certain that people will start traveling again in large numbers. The questions are: When and how?
Premise: High-speed trains make travel safe, fun and affordable—and improve the overall quality of life.
We’ve seen what a difference even a brief break from car and airplane pollution can make. With more trains, cleaner air and quieter streets will be our new reality. Trains will also save lives, make travel pleasant and affordable for families, and ease the strain on city and state budgets from propping up dysfunctional car culture.
Premise: We must unify a diverse, dispersed group of people to succeed.
This is as true as ever, and it’s why our Phased Network Approach is so powerful and relevant. It integrates and coordinates different types of trains and track, so that a transportation network is well-adapted to the specific needs of specific markets—and the benefits ripple out across a broad swath of the population.
So, our work remains vital. But trains will need to attract a bigger share of a smaller travel market, given the current realities. Together, we can promote a new vision of what an intercity travel network can be. And we can build the political will to make it real.
What are the keys to success?
A successful campaign will be defined by three principles:
A. It will be driven by a big-picture plan for a national network. For decades, advocates of high-speed rail have focused on regions. But there is no regional level of government. A federal program that will reshape transportation in every state is fundamental to our success.
B. It will be optimistic, building the will for a long-term vision by supporting immediate, achievable wins. New, high-performance trainsets gain the greatest traction in the shortest time because of the economic boost the projects deliver—and the undeniable appeal of modern, high-tech trains.
C. It will be a good business proposition for Class 1 railroads. The power of private interests in the North American railroad industry means that a productive relationship with the established players is key to building a nationwide passenger-rail network.
These are anxious times, obviously. The economy is shifting rapidly and unpredictably. The dynamics in D.C. remain broken. And yet there is incredible potential for a transformation of North America’s transportation priorities.
We need to act now.
We’re seeing how quickly profound change can happen. That can be frightening. But it also means there are good reasons to become more active and engaged. For example:
1) There may be multiple economic stimulus bills over the next year, and infrastructure will likely be a major focus of at least one. Lawmakers need to know that there are better options than dysfunctional car culture—and a big, passionate base of people who want change.
2) Likewise, the Fast Act reauthorization is currently in play. The replacement should set new funding and policy priorities for the nation’s transportation system. We can—and must—make trains a key part of that debate.
3) Several other great opportunities are also on the horizon in Congress. Multiple legislators have written bills that will deliver game-changing funding for high-speed rail, if and when they become law. And Amtrak is seeking relief from the coronavirus-related plummet in its ridership and revenues. The appropriations bill that Congress passes each year (usually in the fall) will set funding levels for Amtrak and other transportation systems. Lawmakers need to know exactly where we stand and what is at stake when they debate those appropriations.
In short, there are several promising paths for bringing high-speed rail to North America. How can we make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime moment?
Here’s what we need to do.
Our first priority is simple: We need to get many more people invested in the cause. More members mean more power to create change, more resources to build the work, and more staff.
This outreach will have to be digital in the months ahead, clearly, and we’ve invested much in growing those capabilities. One fun and effective thing we tried was sponsoring two train trips by a video blogger, Michael Downie, who posted clips of his journeys on his YouTube channel.
We aim to at least double our membership by the end of 2020. That’s a big challenge in the current economy, and we’ll have to pull together to get it done. You can help by sharing your enthusiasm for high-speed rail and HSRA with family and friends—and by donating!
See the enclosed fact sheet for a summary of our communications plan and how your donation helps us reach new audiences and new members.
Second, we need to focus all the energy and influence we can muster on moving the needle in D.C. at this critical moment.
While grassroots work is our primary model, we have explored the possibility of hiring a D.C.-based contractor to do more traditional political lobbying. Money is obviously a huge challenge to entering that realm. If your network includes potential funding organizations and large donors, you can help us move forward with this idea by connecting them with us.
Third, we must inspire rail supporters to become much more engaged with the work. That means we must reach out to them more regularly, identify the ways they can make a real difference, and give them effective tools to do so. Your engagement is vital as well, since word-of-mouth is our most powerful tool for building momentum. We will grow our power and resources exponentially if all members simply bring a friend or two on board.
So, our vision for the coming months looks like this: We will have a rapidly growing membership base that increasingly takes ownership of this work; believes their investment can create profound changes; pulls together to make that happen; and is rewarded with real, tangible results.
Please call me at 773-334-6758 or send a message if you want to discuss any aspect of HSRA’s work.
And, again, know that I am deeply grateful for your commitment to bringing high-speed rail to North America. Together, we can make substantial progress toward that goal—and rise to the opportunities of this moment—in the months ahead.
PS: We have enclosed a flyer that outlines our summer outreach campaign. Please consider making a special donation to support this effort.