Talk about setting your sights low. The current Amtrak plan for the Northeast Corridor calls for reducing travel times – over the next twenty years – by 4 minutes between Philadelphia and New York, and by 20 minutes between New York and Boston. As one professor says, “Amtrak’s new plan leaves you with a really good early-20th-century rail system.” It’s not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, and you save about 50 minutes over the regional trains for $80 more. Hell, this is how sorry the current state of high-speed rail funding in the Northeast is:
Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), top Republican on the Transportation Committee, criticized the administration for giving little of $8 billion in high-speed money to the Northeast.
“They practically ignored the region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor,” he said. The corridor received $485 million, or 6 percent, of the stimulus funding. [Emphasis mine].
However, because we are the world and we are the future, some students at UPenn’s School of Design have proposed a radical alternative: a true, dedicated high-speed system that would make the journey from Boston to Washington, D.C. just 3.5 hours. From Philadelphia to New York in 37 minutes. This is the direction we want to go. This is more than just lip service.
One of the more interesting aspects to the proposal is a new route for the Boston-New York stretch. Instead of the current shadowing of I-95, trains would follow the same highways that I take when I drive to New York, I-90 to I-91 to I-84 (though presumably these trains won’t take the Merritt Parkway). But then the route diverges sharply to the south and crosses underneath Long Island Sound in a tunnel before turning west again and continuing on to the city.
I love this for so many reasons. This is something we’ll actually use, putting people to work, and producing a end-result we can all be happy with and proud of. Most importantly, it’s big-picture thinking. It’s ambitious. It’s grandiose. And it’s entirely in keeping with the American way.
“We started with a different framework than Amtrak,” said Bryan Rodda, 26, one of the student authors. “Amtrak said, ‘What’s the best we can do to make sure it doesn’t fall apart?’ and then, ‘What is the best we can do with what we have to improve travel time?’
“We asked, ‘What can we do if we rejected the way it is now and do actual, true high-speed rail and get travel time below two hours?’ ”
The students proposed a remade Market East station to accommodate the high-speed train stop in Philadelphia, with another stop at Philadelphia International Airport.
They suggested keeping 30th Street Station for other train traffic and visualized a revitalized Market Street corridor between University City and Old City.
The students proposed that federal and state governments pay for the new high-speed rail line for the Northeast, along with private investors. They suggested money could be raised from gas taxes, interstate tolls, user fees, value-added taxes, and station-area sales taxes.
The economic benefits, the students concluded, would outstrip the costs by $70 billion.
Yes we can, pretty please?