Study: U.S. high-speed rail can work, needs fresh approach

Posted on September 26, 2011

High-speed rail could spur economic growth in major cities, protect the environment, and save energy — but requires a fresh approach that creates new, accountable rail management structures, brings in the private sector, and concentrates for now on California and the Northeast, according to a new report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

"High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers," the Lincoln Institute's latest Policy Focus Report, applies 50 years of international experience in high-speed rail to the U.S. context and recommends prioritizing corridors with demonstrated markets, such as the Northeast and California, and exploring alternative management and financing arrangements, including separating infrastructure development from rail operations and forming public-private partnerships.

The report also recommends that high-speed intercity stations should be in city centers with mixed-use development all around them and have abundant connections to buses, subways and commuter rail, allowing passengers to reach final destinations and broadening access to labor markets.

"High-Speed Rail: International Lessons for U.S. Policy Makers," also made the following policy recommendations to make planning, constructing and operating high-speed rail a success:

  • Strengthen the federal policy and management framework by expanding the federal role in planning and prioritizing high-speed rail corridors and working with the states to secure rights-of-way.
  • Focus initially on the Northeast Corridor and California, which offer the best opportunities for success, by addressing the management and financing challenges each region faces.
  • Establish new mechanisms for corridor management by developing legislation that enables the creation of public infrastructure corporations that can operate across state and national borders and attract private investment.
  • Plan for maximum land development benefits by coupling high-speed rail station investments with policies that encourage land development around station areas. Well-connected stations in center-city locations offer the greatest potential for urban revitalization.
  • Secure adequate and reliable funding by drawing on a full complement of potential federal, state, and private sources. Such sources could include increasing existing transportation related fees — such as a portion of the gas tax, or ticket surcharges — creating an infrastructure bank, forging public-private partnerships, and expanding existing credit assistance programs.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has been engaged in a series of projects with the Regional Plan Association for more than a decade. The partnership spawned the national initiative known as America 2050, which is aimed at meeting the infrastructure, economic development and environmental challenges of the nation, in preparation for a population increase of more than 100 million by 2050.


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