Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on April 7, 2022
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 27, 2022
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2022
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the planning, development, operation, maintenance, and expansion of a national network of high-speed and intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) systems including advanced technology high speed ground transportation (HSGT) systems in the United States. Investment in HSIPR should be prioritized based upon passenger demand, travel time savings, reduced energy consumption, mobility, economic factors, and environmental benefit, and be balanced between 1) renewal and incremental improvements to existing passenger rail systems and 2) the development of advanced HSGT.
As highways and airspace connecting communities and economic centers across the U.S. become increasingly congested, investments in HSIPR can play a critical role in intercity passenger transportation. Public interest is growing for investment in HSIPR as a cost effective, energy efficient, and sustainable alternative to investment in expanded highway and air capacity.
HSIPR is characterized by frequent, express service between major population centers up to 600 miles apart, with few intermediate stops, and top speeds of at least 150 mph on dedicated, access-controlled rights-of-way with grade separated crossings. Other nations have invested heavily in new HSIPR systems over the past four decades as a proven solution to serving short to intermediate range (100-600 miles) travel demand between growing urban areas. In China, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, and France, where such passenger rail service is most highly advanced, electric-powered HSGT travels much faster, and is more energy-efficient than automotive or aeronautic transportation.
While the U.S. has historically spent substantial sums on our nation’s highway and air passenger networks, our country has lagged in the development and implementation of safe, efficient, relatively non-polluting, and high-capacity HSIPR and HSGT networks. With the completion of the Interstate Highway System, federal, state, and local transportation investments are targeted to and prioritized for infrastructure preservation and urban growth, and less for intercity capacity expansion. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 will provide $66 billion for intercity passenger and freight rail infrastructure improvements and expansion over five years. While this boost in funding should have a significant positive impact to HSIPR and HSGT, increased sustainable funding will be needed in the future.
The United States' long-term economic vitality and national competitiveness will depend to a large extent on its ability and resolve to develop and invest in additional transportation capacity with environmentally sound and cost-effective forms of transportation. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, higher speed rail has been successful in the Northeast Corridor, connecting regions between Washington, D.C., and Boston with over 18.8 million annual passenger trips. Further, over 5.7 million passenger trips per year are served by California’s three intercity corridors, making these routes the busiest in the U.S. after the Northeast Corridor. Investing in new high-speed technologies with grade separated crossings, improved track alignment, track and train control systems and signals can increase speed, improve safety, and avoid creating new at-grade rail crossings that create bottlenecks and divide adjacent communities.
Anticipated benefits of HSIPR include:
- Safety — one of the safest forms of ground transportation.
- Efficiency — operations and maintenance costs per passenger mile for intermediate range travel on HSIPR are lower than those for highway/automobile and airport/airplane travel modes.
- Travel time savings — passengers would avoid congestion and delay on the highway and/or at the airport.
- Connectivity — provides inner city hubs where passengers can seamlessly connect at rail origin or destination to urban public transportation systems and other forms of transportation such as biking and walking.
- Productivity — provides improved passenger comfort and allows passengers to work or relax while traveling.
- Sustainability — even today’s modest intercity passenger rail system consumes one third less energy per passenger-mile than automobiles, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
- Increased environmental protection — according to one recent study, implementation of pending plans for the Federally-designated HSIPR corridors could result in an annual reduction of 6 billion pounds of CO2.
- Enhanced freight capacity — in locations where separate rights-of-way are provided for HSIPR.
- Equity — increases mobility for underserved populations.
- Economic — connect hubs of economic activity across multiple urban areas, which creates positive impact for local and regional economies adding to property values and supporting regional economic development.
- Reliability and predictability — offer more reliable service due to the use of dedicated rights of way operable under all but the most severe weather conditions.
ASCE Policy Statement 402
First Approved in 1992