High-Speed Rail Can Boost Economy, Reduce Traffic

Media Contacts

Drawing lessons from other countries, a new study from Maryland PIRG shows that high-speed rail can boost our economy, save energy, curb pollution and provide a popular alternative to congested roads and airports.

“The O’Malley Administration applauds Maryland PIRG for drawing attention to the vitally important issue of intercity rail service,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley.  “We urge that the next set of major rail investments in our region be focused on the Northeast Corridor’s state of good repair and cost-effective service expansion.  In doing so, all the users of the rail system – intercity, commuter and freight – will enjoy better reliability and fewer bottlenecks.”

The Maryland PIRG report, “A Track Record of Success: High-Speed Rail Around the World and Its Promise for America,” details a number of examples from around the world that make a variety of cases for high-speed rail. Some of the benefits include:

  • Jobs: about 8,000 people were involved in the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between the tunnel and London
  • Development opportunities near stations: The amount of office space in the area around the rail station in city of Lyon, France has increased by 43%.
  • Economic growth: in Germany, the counties surrounding the towns of Limburg and Montabauer experienced a 2.7% increase in their gross domestic product as a result of the increased access to markets provided by the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line.
  • Reduced road congestion: high-speed rail service between Madrid and Seville reduced the share of car travel between the two cities from 60% to 34%.
  • Reduced air travel: even in the relatively slow rail service in the U.S. Northeastern Corridor, the rail corridor accounts for 65% of the air-rail market between NY and Washington, DC.
  • Reduced oil dependence: a typical Monday morning business trip between London and Paris via high-speed rail uses approximately a third less energy as a car or plane trip.

Maryland and other states have urged federal railroad officials to develop a plan to upgrade high-speed passenger rail service along the Northeast Corridor over the next four decades. Recently, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $2.5 billion in investments designed to encourage the spread of rail passenger transportation, $198 million of which will go to the Northeast.

Amtrak’s Acela Express service along the U.S. East Coast still succeeds in replacing air travel, despite travel speeds that are slow by international standards. Currently, the Acela Express makes the journey from New York to Washington, D.C., in 2 hours and 55 minutes, and the journey from Boston to New York in 3 hours and 34 minutes. By contrast, the trip from London to Paris on the Eurostar—which covers a greater distance by rail than either the New York-to-D.C. or Boston-to-New York trips—takes as little as 2 hours and 15 minutes. Nonetheless, rail service on the Northeast Corridor—particularly following the introduction of near-high-speed Acela Express service in 2001—has captured a growing share of the air/rail market. Around 12 million riders a year use Amtrak along the Northeast corridor.

A Track Record of Success discusses the benefits of investing in high speed rail travel for both regional travel and commuting. Improvements to rail infrastructure between Boston and Washington, D.C., for example, will also drive simultaneous improvements in commuter and freight transportation in Maryland. Maryland lawmakers should work with commuter rail providers to ensure that the high-speed rail services complement commuter rail services.

In addition, the possibility of allowing freight service on dedicated high-speed rail lines at night, as is the practice in some other nations with high-speed rail, should be examined. Since high-speed rail lines in Maryland will operate on existing rights of way owned by freight railroads, smart investments in track and infrastructure improvements could result in making freight rail a more attractive alternative for shippers—an improvement that would magnify the environmental, energy and congestion relief benefits of those investments.

Maryland PIRG is calling on lawmakers to carry out the recommendations of A Track Record of Success, which include:

  • Ensure stable, continued funding for high-speed rail
  • Make high-speed rail stations accessible
  • Use high-speed rail to focus future development, not create sprawl
  • Encourage private investment, but with strong public protections
  • Integrate high-speed rail with improvements to commuter and freight rail
  • Keep clear lines of accountability
  • Encourage cooperation among states
  • Encourage domestic manufacturing

“Now that the election is behind us, it’s time to get serious about high-speed rail. There is no such thing as a Republican or a Democratic rail track,” said Maryland PIRG Associate Jenny Levin, “Our leaders from both parties should support long-term investment in high-speed rail for the benefits it will bring to Maryland.”