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America’s intercity rail is making an impact, and it’s proof that further investments in rail can provide even greater benefits. I recently toured station area developments along Amtrak’s (high-speed) Acela line in the northeastern part of the United States. What I saw was proof that a visionary community that understands the utility of a train line, can ignite economic growth around their station.
Wilmington, Delaware, for example, has used their Acela station to spur a renaissance—which includes high-rise condominiums, new retail establishments, parks and other place-making investments.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has noticed an uptick in office development around its Acela station. Philadelphia lies between New York and Washington, DC—two cities served by Acela. Businesses that have clients in both cities have found locating in Philadelphia’s station area useful, as they have convenient access to clients, by them simply walking to the station.
The growth around Acela stations is instructive—the line averages less than 80 miles per hour, yet that is enough to make it competitive against the airlines, and it is enough to spur development around the train stations.
The national vision of a three-tiered high-speed rail system, as articulated by the Obama Administration, will offer that same level of service to smaller towns and cities around the nation.
The vision calls for upgrading Acela service to speeds of up to 220 mph (tier one), and would offer that to other major populated corridors, such as California. Tier two offers speeds of up to 125 mph for smaller regional anchors, such as St. Louis and Kansas City. For smaller towns in tier three such as my hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, we will see speeds similar to today’s Acela line.
Just think of the economic and community development potential that will touch communities all over America. This is why I am a strong proponent of a national intercity rail system that is developed and truly national in scope. Attempts to focus investments in just one or two areas of the nation are unfair and unsustainable. The whole nation should benefit from these investments—our national economy needs it. Imagine what life would be like if Beltway politicians had only built the interstate highway system in New York and California? What would our nation’s transportation system look like now?
That’s why I must oppose Congressman John Mica’s (R-Florida) Amtrak privatization bill in its current form. It focuses the national effort on the Northeast, to the detriment of a national system, while failing to deliver concrete and verifiable benefits for the Northeast.
Instead, I believe that mayors from small towns and big cities alike should be supportive of Amtrak’s funding request for FY 2012, as well as support the Administration’s High-Speed and Intercity Rail Program funding request. Supporting these two programs will do two things—1) ensure that a national rail system survives in the short-term, and 2) ensure that the three tiered approach that would serve the interests of big cities and small towns alike is able to continue its development.
Your support for both programs will ensure that the economic development the Northeast has seen along its Acela line can also be utilized in your community and leveraged to create lasting change. As a former mayor, I understand the importance of a willing and helpful federal partner. These two programs constitute the federal partner offering assistance – let’s make sure that assistance continues.
If you have questions, or would like to help protect these important programs, feel free to contact me, and I will plug you into the on-going efforts that mayors already have underway.