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Opinion: Time to get moving on high-speed rail

(The following column by Rep. Don Young appeard at Politico.com on June 28, 2010. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2001 to 2007 and is now the ranking Republican on that committee.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The need for high-speed rail in this country is real and urgent.

As airport delays increase, traffic on our roads and highways slows to a standstill and our current rail system’s highest-speed train chugs along at a pace slower than most cars, a high-speed-rail system would provide a welcome, convenient and safe alternative for American travel.

Over the course of many pieces of legislation, billions of dollars have been directed toward the intention of implementing a high-speed-rail infrastructure. But most of the money has gone to subsidizing the subpar system already in place.

When I was chairman of the. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, high-speed rail was a priority for me. So I ensured that money was set aside for the development of these systems on both the East and the West coasts.

Billions in stimulus fund grants were to be directed toward the same goal but have gone, instead, to the operation and maintenance of the existing system.

A nationwide high-speed-rail system would reduce highway and air congestion, expedite the shipment of goods (as freight rail would no longer have to share tracks with passenger rail) and promote economic development — and is more energy efficient.

However, taxpayer dollars are continually being dumped into the subsidization of a rail system that is the modern-day transportation equivalent of a covered wagon.

High-speed rail — on par with that already in use in Japan, Spain, France, Germany (whose maglev, or magnetic levitation, train I have traveled on) and China — has the ability to provide a comparable alternative to air travel and would serve to alleviate air traffic and delays.

The average American adult spends an hour and a half each day driving in his or her car. Over a year, that amounts to 34 hours spent in traffic jams — contributing to the waste of nearly 2.3 billion gallons of fuel per year from all cars idling in traffic.

Using France’s high-speed train, the TGV, one can travel the 250 miles from Paris to Lyon in two hours. In the United States, that same distance takes roughly five hours on Amtrak’s Acela — the closest thing we have to a high-speed train, averaging about 83 miles per hour.

As the U.S. population continues to grow, so do our transportation needs. Our country’s infrastructure is, quite simply, not keeping up with the demand.

Meanwhile, our dependence on foreign fuel to keep our cars idling in traffic is growing exponentially.

According to studies, high-speed rail uses a third less energy per mile than does auto or air travel, and a nationwide system could reduce our oil use significantly — by up to 125 million barrels per year.

As a country that is currently beholden to foreign countries for its oil supply, this should serve as an incentive. Additionally, though some may worry about the high costs of implementing such a system, high-speed rail represents the kind of long-term infrastructure investment that pays dividends for decades.

Our current infrastructure system has paid for itself many times over, and a high-speed-rail system would do the same.

While President Barack Obama is pushing billions of dollars in stimulus bills that fund Big Government, he is missing a golden opportunity to stimulate the economy. Investments in infrastructure create jobs, plain and simple.

America is losing its global competitiveness for many reasons — not the least of which involves our inability to move freight effectively and efficiently.

Monday, June 28, 2010

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