A study issued Tuesday by APTA said "high-performance rail" networks in the Northeast, California, the Midwest and the Northwest could produce at least $660 million a year in time savings, unspent highway funds, and other benefits.
Many of the visiting foreign rail executives traveled to Washington on Tuesday to meet with administration and congressional high-speed rail advocates, and Rep. David Price (D., N.C.) told them, "I hope somehow your enthusiasm will be contagious in our own country."
Price blamed Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled House for blocking high-speed rail funds from the last three federal budgets, and he said Congress needed to balance budget-cutting with spending on innovative programs such as bullet trains. "We need a balanced approach that we're having a great deal of trouble getting consensus around," Price said.
He said high-speed rail in the United States "is not some kind of utopian fantasy, but it's clear that we have some work to do."
The leaders of high-speed rail companies from France, Italy, Spain, Russia, and Japan outlined the gains their countries had seen in jobs, congestion relief, economic development, and emissions reductions, but they acknowledged that high start-up costs required significant government investment.
In Spain, which has built 1,400 miles of high-speed rail lines since 1986, the cost has been about $32 million a mile, a representative said, and about $128 million a mile for tunnels.
Most Americans say they would likely use high-speed rail if it existed in this country, according to a survey released Wednesday by APTA.
But price would be crucial: 83 percent of respondents said it would be "very important" or "somewhat important" for the train to be cheaper than flying and 78 percent said it was important for the train to be cheaper than driving.
In other countries, the cost of traveling by high-speed train is often cheaper than flying but rarely cheaper than driving.
Support for high-speed rail is highest among young adults, the APTA survey found: 74 percent of those 18 to 24 years old said they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to use bullet trains, compared to 62 percent among the entire adult population, and 45 percent among those over 65.
"Young people are focused less on driving and more on mobility, whatever the mode is," said APTA president Michael Melaniphy. "They see it as economically beneficial and environmentally as the right thing to do."
The obstacles the U.S. faces in its effort to develop high-speed rail include a lack of reliable funding, an overarching plan, and legislation to guide it, said a report released last month by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.
"Without a stable and reliable source of funding, the [high-speed rail] initiative will not succeed in the U.S.," the report concluded. "It is not far-fetched to imagine a scenario where a new administration could abandon the decision to build HSR altogether."
To avoid that, "the long-term funding plan has to be put in place," said Rina Cutler, Philadelphia's deputy mayor for transportation and an advocate of a high-speed rail line that includes stations at Market East and Philadelphia International Airport.
"We really want to be a cheerleader for high-speed rail," Cutler said. "It's crucially important for the country as a whole, and I think Philly is in a pretty significant location on the prime corridor in the country."
High-speed rail travel on the Northeast Corridor, with trips from Philadelphia to New York in 37 minutes, would spawn economic development and create thousands of jobs, she said.
"It will change the world as we know it," Cutler said.
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