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It’s time for the Northeast Corridor to lead the ‘second great railroad revolution’ | Opinion

The NEC’s population is projected to grow by more than 12 million residents by 2040, yet the region is straining under antiquated transportation systems.

A magnetically levitated train crossing a bridge outside of Tokyo. (Northeast Maglev and Central Japan Railway Co.)
A magnetically levitated train crossing a bridge outside of Tokyo. (Northeast Maglev and Central Japan Railway Co.)Read more

As former bipartisan governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, we fully support President Joe Biden’s ambition to “spark the second great railroad revolution.” The acute need for a modern transportation infrastructure in the United States capable of meeting the challenges of climate change and congestion is no better exemplified than in the Northeast Corridor — a region we know well. The corridor’s population is projected to grow by more than 12 million residents by 2040, yet the region is already straining under antiquated transportation systems only set to become worse without visionary change.

We’re not alone. In a recent op-ed, three former bipartisan U.S. secretaries of transportation wrote that “high-speed rail is the single most effective way to move America’s transportation system into the 21st century” and that it “is the most powerful strategy to dramatically reduce climate pollution while reducing traffic congestion and improving intercity travel.”

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President Biden and his leadership team at the Department of Transportation have already hit the ground running by completing the federal review of previously stalled rail projects. Congressional committee chairs Tom Carper, Maria Cantwell, and Peter DeFazio are prioritizing investment in rail including $66 billion in the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. DOT is also working to create a passenger rail trust fund, in line with what’s already enjoyed by other transportation modes like highways and airports.

With the Biden administration and Congress finally giving passenger rail the attention it deserves, we believe that Northeast Corridor passenger rail should not only be brought to a state of good repair, but should leap forward with Super Conducting Maglev technology (SCMaglev). For the past decade we have been working to advance a SCMaglev train that would whisk riders from Washington to New York as little as 55 minutes at 311 mph.

No, this is not some futuristic dream. The first phase of the project, Washington to Baltimore, is currently under review by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The SCMaglev system is a proven technology already tested over decades of real-world experience and ready to build in the United States today. Developed by Central Japan Railway Company, the system is already operational in Japan and has safely carried hundreds of thousands of passengers — including all of us.

We firmly support Amtrak’s efforts to upgrade its service and see SCMaglev as complementary to Amtrak, not competitive. As Amtrak itself already notes, overcapacity on its right-of-way is a major issue on the Northeast Corridor. We will never have true high-speed rail if Amtrak trains continue to share track with commuter and freight railroads using 19th century infrastructure. A region with not one but two separate rail lines is a more dynamic and resilient.

As we near the 20th anniversary of the awful 9/11 attacks, they serve as a tragic reminder that redundancy and resiliency are not just a transportation issue but a national security issue as well. Countries like Japan and the United Kingdom have already invested in complementary rail lines — Chuo Shinkansen and HS2, respectively — to make their regions stronger moving forward. The Federal Railroad Administration’s NEC FUTURE plan for improving the corridor found that “an advanced guideway system, such as magnetic levitation technology, could be used to develop a second spine.”

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Moreover, building the SCMaglev will improve America’s foreign relations. The government of Japan — America’s closest ally in the Asia-Pacific region — supports bringing SCMaglev to the United States and has already pledged to finance a portion of the first phase of construction. Deploying their prized train in the U.S. will bring our countries closer together than ever before. Over the last decade China has built over 15,500 miles of dedicated high-speed rail, more than the rest of the world combined. The U.S., by contrast, has 34 miles of “high-speed capable” infrastructure. In partnership with Japan, the United States can surpass China in deploying the fastest and most advanced train technology in the world.

Finally, high-speed rail has consistently been shown to reduce emissions, making it a valuable tool to combat climate change. The SCMaglev will be no different, with the Federal Railroad Administration’s review of the project noting it will relieve regional car congestion, reduce tailpipe emissions, and improve regional air quality.

SCMaglev is the rare opportunity for a transportation initiative to increase the economic productivity of the Northeast Corridor, combat climate change, and bolster our relationship with a long-standing democratic ally in a crucial region of the world. One century ago the great railroads of the age like the B&O, Pennsylvania, and New York Central were pillars upon which the American economy stood. The president is exactly right about “the second great railroad revolution,” and it’s clear that SCMaglev can be a pillar for 21st century America on which to stand.

Former Govs. George Pataki (R.), Ed Rendell (D.), and Christine Todd Whitman (R.), serve on the advisory board of the Northeast Maglev, a private U.S.-owned company.