It currently takes Amtrak trains six to seven hours to get from Providence to Washington — roughly equivalent to driving and sluggish compared to flying. Amtrak has long sought to reduce travel times along the northeast corridor. As America continues to fall behind other countries in developing high-speed rail, now is the time for Brown to unite with other northeast universities to push for making this goal a reality.
Despite increased federal funding, Amtrak continues to struggle: It lost $1.1 billion in 2008. That year, Congress allocated $2 billion per annum for the government-owned corporation over the next five years. Amtrak officials have said that this authorization was a positive step, but not enough to develop the kind of bullet trains seen in other countries. And while President Obama's stimulus package allotted $8 billion for investment in high-speed passenger rail, this sum was split among 31 states and so will not have a transformative impact.
Meanwhile, China plans to open around 40 high-speed rail lines between now and 2012. Were China's fastest bullet train located along the eastern coast of the United States, it could travel from Boston to Virginia in the time it takes Amtrak's fastest line, the Acela, to go from Boston to New York. Around the world, advanced rail technology links Madrid to Barcelona, Paris to Lyon, Tokyo to Osaka.
Put simply, the United States is far behind. The more we continue to lag, the more we lose out on the positive economic externalities associated with efficient infrastructure.
A recent op-ed in the New York Times made the case that the northeast corridor would be the best location for a large investment in high-speed rail. Despite slow train speeds, Amtrak has still managed to carve out a surprisingly large share of the market for travel along the east coast. If Amtrak sharply reduced travel times, it could spur regional economic growth and secure its own long-term sustainability.
We encourage Brown and the scores of other northeast universities to take up this case and lobby for it. Bullet trains would allow for increased collaboration between students and professors in cities along the northeast corridor and would facilitate interschool research projects. Train modernization would also help strengthen the connection between the institutions of higher education in the northeast and our nation's capital — a boon both to politically-active students and policy-oriented professors.
While we hope all northeast schools recognize the potential here, it is worth noting that this project could be hugely significant for the Ivy League. Five of the Ancient Eight are located in cities along Amtrak's northeast corridor. We urge the Ivy Council — an organization comprised of student representatives from all the Ivy League universities — to focus some of its efforts on the possibility of high-speed rail in the northeast.
Although the northeast corridor is currently home to Amtrak's Acela — the only train in America that even resembles a high-speed line — it has not yet been designated a "high-speed rail corridor." This designation would make the northeast eligible for more federal funding opportunities. Last week, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives introduced legislation correcting this problem and designating the northeast appropriately. We hope all northeastern universities will unite in pushing for the passage of this legislation — a small but important step towards a worthwhile goal.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials (at) browndailyherald.com.