The national conference for the United States High-Speed Rail Association was held this week at the New Yorker Hotel, with more than 30 countries participating, including the U.S., China and Canada.
There was tremendous excitement at the conference among attendees for development of the Northeast corridor, the multi-state rail system stretching from Washington, D.C., through Maine and on to Quebec.
To the proponents of a new movement taking shape in New York, the initials HSR are a rallying cry for an economic development plan on a grand scale not seen in this state for 200 years–not since construction began on the Erie Canal in 1815.
“HSR” stands for high-speed rail, and to its supporters, moving passengers from New York to Albany and on to Buffalo at 200 miles per hour–on the very same course as the Erie Canal–will produce a similar economic transformation of upstate New York and the Empire State as a whole.
The high-speed rail movement is hardly a wide-eyed economic panacea. After all, its chief adherent is the president of the United States, and Congress has already authorized more than $10 billion to jump start high-speed rail development.
I have worked closely with Louise Slaughter, the upstate congresswoman who heads the powerful House Rules Committee, to champion high-speed rail development for New York State and the county. If built, a high-speed rail line will run directly through Slaughter’s district.
We need a new vision. A new direction. And, high-speed rail is traveling at a rate of speed that will not only energize New York State, but the entire country.
The days of operating in an economic vacuum are over. Queens may never need or see a high-speed rail line, but the kids who grow up here are going to have to compete in a complex, competitive and connected economic world. In such a world, high-speed rail is as critical as high-speed Internet. It brings together New York’s communities in a way that makes the whole state more competitive.
It’s is time to revive New York State.
When the Erie Canal was built, New York City was the same size as Philadelphia and competing with New Orleans as America’s chief seaport. The canal changed all that. We can replicate the economic connection to upstate and the Midwest with similarly positive effects on New York City and the state as a whole.
As chair of the High-Speed Rail Working Group of the National Conference of State Legislatures, I have traveled around this state and country, and it is clear that the high-speed rail can serve as the catalyst for an economic resurgence in communities and states around the country.
I believe we can learn from our history. Every time this nation has needed a new economic edge, it has always looked to transportation. Whether it was Jefferson’s plan to build roads through the Louisiana Purchase, the Erie Canal, Lincoln’s Continental Railroad or Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, transportation has always powered this nation. High-speed rail is our national mission and our destiny.
Americans support the notion of high-speed passenger rail by nearly 80 percent. Still, the huge cost and its unproven economic benefits make its future uncertain.
It is time for the New Yorkers and the nation to get aboard the high-speed rail train. Most of the developed world is already on board. We better move soon, or we will get left behind.