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America’s future is riding on high speed rail

(The American High Speed Rail Alliance issued the following press release on March 4, 2010.)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Obama Administration and Congress have an opportunity to provide meaningful job stimulus and jump-start the nation’s economy by making an additional investment and providing significant incentives that ensure hundreds of thousands of American workers are immediately put to work designing, building and operating an American high speed rail system.

The next jobs stimulus bill and the upcoming surface transportation authorization must include substantial funding and investment incentives to make American high speed rail a reality.

For nearly all its existence, the U.S. economy has prospered because of its transportation system and the jobs the industry created and sustained. Today, however, the American transportation system is a mature system at its capacity, and with it, our nation faces unprecedented economic and employment challenges.

Many believe that by reinvigorating our nation’s transportation system through the design, construction and operation of high speed rail, America will again realize economic prosperity and with it a wide range of other significant benefits.

Industry, state and federal government representatives estimate that the recently awarded $8 billion in high speed rail stimulus funding will create or retain as many as 160,000 jobs over the next two years. Over the next two decades, it is estimated that more than $800 billion will be invested to design, build and operate high speed passenger rail service in at least 13 key corridors throughout the United States. This investment will support more than one million positions ranging from consultants, engineers and technicians who will design and build the system to the train crews and systems managers who will operate the built-out system.

Additionally, every dollar invested in the nation’s future high speed rail network has the potential of generating $3 in new economic activity, fostering job creation in a large variety of fields and industries.

Because America’s recent experience with passenger rail service is so limited, and our experience with high speed rail is almost nonexistent, our nation faces a two-edged opportunity as it moves forward with high speed rail. We will need to identify the kind of workforce required, and then recruit and train that workforce.

Fortunately, a working group representing a wide range of transportation interests, including the American High Speed Rail Alliance, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Council of University Transportation Centers is already at work, identifying the skill and knowledge requirements of America’s future transportation workforce and the means and methods for recruiting and training that workforce.

The working group’s task, while seemingly simple, is in fact quite daunting. First, there is no system or method in place that identifies current, let along future, workforce requirements for America’s future transportation industry. As a result, the methods for recruiting and training this workforce are also somewhat lacking. There are some very reputable and credible efforts underway to attract young talent and to retrain others to address current and anticipated workforce needs. But if job growth occurs as it is expected in high speed rail, for example, much ground will need to be covered very quickly.

George Washington initiated the first American transportation revolution with the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal along the Potomac River. In 1814, President Jefferson appointed Albert Gallatin Secretary of the Treasury. Gallatin presented the young nation with a comprehensive transportation plan that continues to shape much of America’s transportation policy. Six decades later, President Lincoln launched another assault in America’s transportation revolution with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. One hundred years later, President Eisenhower changed the face of the American transportation system, and revolutionized American society with the Interstate Highway system. Now, President Obama has set off perhaps the most dramatic American transportation revolution. He has envisioned America with a world-class high speed rail system to transport people and goods, reduce energy consumption, contribute to lower carbon emissions and provide significant career opportunities to hundreds of thousands of American workers for decades to come.

Unemployment is hovering at ten percent. Fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and their cost unstable and there is growing concern about the impact of our carbon footprint on the environment. Today is the time to plan, recruit, educate and employ America’s future high speed rail workforce.

Through the next “Jobs Bill” and the forthcoming Surface Transportation Authorization, the Congress and the American people must provide the additional resources and incentives to finance the next American transportation revolution and make American high speed rail a reality.

The American High Speed Rail Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy organization whose members are dedicated to creating and sustaining a clean and energy-efficient advanced national high speed rail system in the United States. AHSRA works on behalf of, and in partnership with, its members and other like-minded stakeholders to support policies and execute programs that ensure the creation and operation of a world-class high speed rail system that is interconnected with all passenger transportation systems throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.americanhsra.org.

Friday, March 5, 2010

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