American transportation investments been car-dominated since hundreds of billions were spent to build the Interstate Highway System in the 20th century. But Buttigieg, echoing his boss, President Joe Biden (who is sometimes called “Amtrak Joe,” thanks to his habit of riding the train between his home state of Delaware and Washington) has spoken recently of upgrading American rail.
America had the fastest passenger trains in the world in 1959, according to Amtrak, but now 18 nations are faster than its highest-speed option, the Acela, which runs between Boston and Washington DC.
“We’ve been asked to settle for less in this country,” Buttigieg said in the MSNBC interview. “I just don’t know why people in other countries ought to have better train service and more investment in high-speed train service than Americans.”
A decade ago, Biden and the Obama administration pushed for high-speed rail nationwide, but they lacked needed funding and political support.
Obama’s initial funding was a significant increase in rail funding, but only a small step toward paying for a national network.
Obama’s talk of faster trains wasn’t well-received in Republican-led states. Governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida turned down billions in federal funding, scuttling high-speed rail projects in those states.
LaHood said the project was ready to go, but then Florida Governor Rick Scott declined the funding. Scott, now a US Senator, said in a statement to CNN Business that he rejected the funding because Florida taxpayers would have to pay hundreds of millions for the project.
High-speed rail advocates believe the Biden administration is better positioned to succeed given what was learned at the Department of Transportation during the Obama years, when there was less experience in high-speed rail projects.
“A lot of people had to learn a lot of stuff really fast. They did the best they could,” Rick Harnish, executive director of the High Speed Rail Alliance told CNN Business.
LaHood thinks more US governors would be accepting of funding now, and estimates as many as half would take funding. He feels the biggest hurdle is if the Biden administration can get Congress to fund high-speed rail.
That path will be challenging, according to Moulton, who introduced his bill last year to invest billions in high-speed rail.
“There will be a lot of lawmakers who just want to repair their local potholes or old bridges rather than invest in 21st century technology,” Moulton told CNN Business. “We can’t squander a generational opportunity by investing in the last generation’s infrastructure.”