Cutting high-speed rail in the climate bill was a mistake – Streetsblog USA

The Democrats’ controversial decision to remove funding for high-speed rail from their blockbuster climate bill has some supporters wondering what it will take for lawmakers to finally understand the mode’s potential for environmental transformation — à la times to decarbonize long-distance travel and the broader movement to end car addiction more broadly.

Sustainable transportation advocates were outraged last week when news broke that the Senate’s $700 billion Inflation Cut Act would contain zero guaranteed money for shared transportation while pouring billions into subsidies consumption for electric cars.

Transit projects are only eligible for a handful of competitive programs — the $3.4 billion Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program and an approximately $1 billion grant program. dollars for green commercial vehicles like buses, school bus vehicles and garbage trucks – but agencies will be forced to compete for their share with projects that primarily benefit pedestrians, cyclists and other sustainable modes. As a result, some are already starting to wonder Democrats estimate the package would cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 2005 levels.

“It’s a bitter pill in terms of rail and mass transit, which is the only clearly established low-carbon transportation system we have,” said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of government affairs. and politics at the Rail Passengers Association. Politics. “It feels like it’s going to lock down freeway dominance.”

One of the less discussed omissions from the bill, however, was a new program to finally launch a high-speed rail network in the United States, which was to receive $10 billion under the former Build Back Better. Act. (Low-speed transit has also been pledged up to $9.9 billion at various times during the Build Back Better negotiation, an amount that was widely seen as a fix for funds lost by agencies during severe cuts to the original bipartisan infrastructure law.)

Despite more than a half-century of legislative attempts dating back to the High-Speed ​​Land Transportation Act of 1965, the Senate has struggled to provide federal investment in high-speed trains — even as other countries around the world have built nearly 35,000 miles of service. Currently just 53.9 miles of the US passenger rail network is functionally capable of supporting train speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour; Morocco, on the other hand, has only 7% of the US land mass, but three times as much high-speed service, and China has almost 24,000 miles of expressways.

“Frankly, I don’t think the Senate understands high-speed rail yet,” said Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed ​​Rail Alliance. “We still have a lot of work to do, especially getting local leaders to tell their senators that their communities need high-speed rail. We simply have too few expectations of what rail service can be in this country.

One of the biggest misconceptions about high-speed rail, Harnish points out, is that it only benefits the small handful of big-city travelers who might be persuaded to swap a plane for a train on a route. specific and limited, rather than a catalyst for a much broader transportation revolution in communities of all sizes.

This is because airports, Harnish explains, consume “a ridiculous amount of land for very small volume vehicles” that typically only carry a few hundred passengers per trip, often at staggering costs to the consumer. taxpayers in generaland of course, the environment. Building high-speed rail stations, however, opens up vast swaths of developable land that can be more meaningfully integrated into local transit, walking and cycling networks, while providing as much as 1,323 passengers in a single trip at much more frequent intervals than many airlines – and taking them directly to the heart of cities, rather than to remote terminals on the outskirts of town.

“You’re bringing a lot of people into your community without a car, which means, among other things, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on store their car,” Harnish said. “It can be a game-changer mentally and make people think differently about how they move.”

Harnish acknowledges that the $10 billion that was cut from the new Senate deal certainly wouldn’t have been enough to give America the high-speed rail network it deserves; a long-sought project between San Francisco and Los Angeles alone has grossed at least $76 billion according to recent estimates, and even smaller projects could easily eat up the whole pot.

But that just means we need to increase funding for all forms of rail travel, including slower trains to smaller towns – which Harnish says was also left out of the deal.

“I’m really annoyed with people complaining that the California line is taking too long and then not funding it, or any other project,” Harnish said. “We need a national movement for fast, frequent and affordable rail travel… Not only would this really reduce driving, but it would be a catalyst to change our communities, so you don’t have to drive for either short trips.

Jose P. Rogers