APTA | Passenger Transport
February 1, 2010

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The ‘Win Strategy’ for High-Speed Rail in America
BY JOLENE M. MOLITORIS, Director, Ohio Department of Transportation

For our nation, it took a new president, elected with a resounding call for change, to create the “win strategy” for high-speed and intercity rail. On April 16, 2009, President Barack Obama shared a future image of vibrant city centers interconnected by passenger trains “whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour … and ending up just blocks from your destination.”

“Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America,” the president envisioned from the White House.

For Ohio, it took a governor from a rural background to produce a “win strategy” for linking Ohio’s largest cities by passenger rail for the first time in 40 years with a system that “connects neighborhoods within a city, and cities within our state.”

“A modern transportation system that includes passenger rail service enhances the quality of life for those in its proximity, revitalizes our cities, and boosts the economic development and growth potential of a region,” Gov. Ted Strickland affirmed.

Their courage and commitment to invest historic new resources is built upon a 30-year history of visionaries who stood for high-speed and intercity rail when there were not many standing with them.

Among those early leading voices—and a mentor of mine—was Bob Casey. Known for his national voice as executive director of the High Speed Rail Association (which became the High Speed Ground Transportation Association that is now merged into APTA), he served as head of the Ohio Rail Transportation Authority—a role I assumed when Bob went to Washington. Bob understood the rail investment connection between the needs of passengers and the needs of industry.

I have been honored to serve in many roles championing the importance of rail, transit, and multi-modal transportation, both at the state and federal levels and in the private sector. For nearly eight years as the nation’s Federal Railroad Administrator and now as director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, I have had an exceptional opportunity to meet and listen to citizens and business leaders all over the United States. They always talk about how our transportation modes must work together because only together will our transportation system meet our collective needs.

The foundation for our readiness to respond to President Obama’s clarion call for a U.S. high-speed rail “win strategy” was built by many. So much credit should go to the never failing commitment over many decades of a coalition in Congress who always stood fast for Amtrak funding, Amtrak itself and its employees who were committed to their enterprise even when times were very difficult. Credit should also go to FRA’s high-speed rail planning, high-speed rail corridor designations, and the partnership with Amtrak to create Acela, and most of all the courageous investment of hundreds of millions of state dollars to create successful state-sponsored passenger corridors.

These critical building blocks readied our country for an overwhelming confluence of events to bring us to where we are today: truly ready to create a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network. The “win strategy” is in place. Consider these recent achievements:
* The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission Report called for a strategy for funding a balanced passenger and freight rail system that is now a guidepost for future federal transportation policy.
* PRIIA: The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 not only provided long-overdue reauthorization for the funding of Amtrak but also created a new capital grants program for states and eligible authorities to provide intercity and high-speed passenger rail.
* ARRA: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $1.3 billion to Amtrak for capital investment and $8 billion in new stimulus funds for state investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail, described by President Obama as a down payment on the future of a nation passenger rail system. Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations for U.S. DOT include an additional $2.5 billion for investment in high-speed and intercity rail programs.
* OneRail Coalition: includes APTA, Amtrak, Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, States for Passenger Rail Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Railway Supply Institute, National Association of Railroad Passengers, labor organizations, and others championing the needed partnerships for 21st Century transportation success.

Because of the leadership of President Obama and the Congress, states know they now have a strong federal partner! All those state investments in passenger rail are now showing what a strong impact they have had on national policy. And because of the public support of governors like Ohio’s Ted Strickland, seven other Midwest governors, and the mayor of Chicago who last July signed a landmark agreement supporting high speed rail—the supporters of high-speed and intercity rail are feeling the strength of increasing long-term public support.

The hunger for safer and greener transportation choice in the U.S. grows each day. As a nation, we have learned and will continue to learn from successful high-speed and intercity systems worldwide. But we know that America’s system will be unique because it must reflect our distinct American character and 21st century needs. The time for an increase in domestic manufacturing is now! The success of high-speed and intercity rail in the U.S. will happen at this time and in this place because intercity rail is an investment with a business case the country needs and wants. Supportive voices—including APTA’s membership—are growing in strength and harmony and must continue to advocate for adequate funding each year to build the high speed and intercity system our nation deserves. 

Because our president and congressional leaders have made a commitment to high-speed and intercity rail, our state and local champions have federal partners they can count on. With APTA, AASHTO, OneRail, and a burgeoning number of advocates, the “win strategy” for high-speed and intercity rail will indeed be a true “winner” for the United States and its people.

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