Imagine departing from Philadelphia and arriving in New York City in 32 minutes, or Washington in less than an hour. Imagine being able to speed at nearly 220 m.p.h. past the ever-worsening traffic gridlock of the five major metropolitan cities along the East Coast.
Now imagine such opportunities throughout the entire Northeast Corridor, which generates 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and supports a population of 50 million Americans packed into an area covering roughly 2 percent of the country.
Sound like the stuff of science fiction? Actually, it is one of the proposals being considered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as part of the Northeast Corridor Future project.
A high-speed rail system to rival those of Europe and Asia may be the most ambitious of the plans under consideration, but it’s the strategy that could help the region fully realize its brimming economic potential and be of particular benefit to those who live and work in and around Philadelphia.
It is unacceptable that the United States still lags on many basic rail safety investments, in addition to our sorry deficit in high-speed innovation and modernization. The FRA estimates that the Northeast Corridor’s aging train infrastructure needs an additional $4.3 billion just to salvage it from a state of chronic disrepair. Last month’s derailment in Philadelphia was a tragic reminder of the costs of our failure to invest in rail safety and modernization.
As we recover from that tragedy, which killed eight people and affected so many others, we must vow to repair what is broken in the system and learn from our mistakes. But we should not stop there. We must lead.
We must pursue more reliable, innovative, and efficient transit projects for the safety and benefit of the 720,000 people who rely on some portion of the Northeast Corridor every day.
National demand for rail service grew 40 percent between 2001 and 2012, and Pennsylvania is integral to that growth. The Keystone State alone experienced 17 percent growth in Amtrak ridership between 2009 and 2014 despite our broader economic challenges.
Amtrak estimates that of the $7.95 billion in annual economic impact it generates nationwide, $1.19 billion is in Pennsylvania – far more than in any other state.
With its prominent role and central location in the Northeast Corridor, Pennsylvania has an opportunity to lead on rail modernization and further distinguish itself as the keystone of the uniquely productive, vibrant, and highly populated chain of metropolitan areas.
We should not tolerate irresponsible actions like the $260 million cut to Amtrak’s funding that was approved by a House committee mere hours after the derailment. We should choose a future in which we go beyond minimal safety precautions and boldly invest in a rail system fit for the 21st century.
Congressman Brendan Boyle represents Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District, including portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.