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  • China has the fastest and largest high-speed rail network in the world.

  • The country has more than 19,000 miles of high-speed rail, the vast

  • majority of which was built in the last decade.

  • Japan's bullet trains can reach speeds of almost 200 miles per hour.

  • And date back to the 1960s.

  • They've become a staple for domestic travel and have moved more than 9

  • billion people without a single passenger casualty.

  • France began service of the high-speed TGV train in 1981 and the rest of

  • Europe quickly followed.

  • And high-speed rail is quickly expanding all over the world in places like

  • India, Saudi Arabia, Russia Iran and Morocco.

  • And then there's the U.S.

  • The U.S.

  • used to be one of the world's global leaders in rail but after World War

  • II there was a massive shift.

  • If you look at the United States prior to 1945, we had a very extensive

  • rail system everywhere.

  • It all was working great except a number of companies in the auto and oil

  • industries decided that for them to have a prosperous future they really

  • needed to basically help phase out all the rail and get us all into cars.

  • The inflexible rails permanently embedded in cobblestones were paved over

  • to provide smooth, comfortable transportation via diesel motor coach.

  • General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil and a few other companies that

  • got together and they were able to buy up all the nation's streetcar

  • systems and then quickly start phasing out service and literally

  • dismantling all the systems over about a 10-year span.

  • In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill to create the National Interstate System.

  • It allocated about $25 billion dollars to build 41,000 miles of highways.

  • The federal government paid for 90% of that, the states covered the final

  • 10 and rail fell by the wayside.

  • Can't you see that this highway means a whole new way of life for the

  • children? And a way of life that we have a chance to help plan and, and to build.

  • We dedicated a huge amount of dollars to building automobile infrastructure

  • in the middle of the 20th century and we're still kind of attached to that

  • model of development.

  • We went from a rail-served country to a auto-dependent nation by the 1960s.

  • We've become a car culture and it's hard to break out of that cycle.

  • Not to mention the fact that in our political system we have very powerful

  • oil lobbies, car manufacturing lobbies, aviation lobbies, all the entities

  • that the high-speed rail would have to compete with.

  • This is the American dream of freedom on wheels.

  • We average some 850 cars per thousand inhabitants in the U.S.,

  • in China it's only 250.

  • And we've never gone back.

  • But according to some this country's transportation ecosystem is reaching

  • a tipping point.

  • When you look at what's happening with the corridor development, again

  • states across the U.S.

  • who are recognizing they are running out of space to expand their highways

  • or interstates.

  • There are limits at airports, there is aviation congestion, so what are

  • the options?

  • A better rail system is one and could come with significant benefits.

  • It's largely an environmental good to switch from air traffic and car

  • traffic to electrified high-speed rail.

  • That's a much lower emission way of traveling.

  • When the high-speed rail between Madrid and Barcelona in Spain came into

  • operation, I mean air travel just plummeted between those cities and

  • everyone switched over to high-speed rail which was very convenient.

  • People were happier.

  • They weren't forced to switch, they did it because it was a nicer option

  • to take high-speed rail.

  • There's a sort of a rule of thumb for trips that are under three or four

  • hours in trip length from city to city, those usually end up with about 80

  • or 90 percent of the travel market from aviation.

  • Where rail exists and it's convenient and high-speed, it's very popular.

  • America I think is waking up to this idea that rail is a good investment

  • for transportation infrastructure.

  • One survey showed 63% of Americans would use high-speed rail if it was

  • available to them.

  • Younger people want it even more.

  • Right now the main passenger rail option in the U.S.

  • is Amtrak.

  • It's operated as a for-profit company but the federal government is its

  • majority stakeholder.

  • Train systems reaching top speeds of over 110 to 150 miles per hour are

  • generally considered high-speed and only one of Amtrak's lines could be

  • considered as such.

  • That's its Acela line in the Northeast Corridor running between D.C.,

  • New York and Boston.

  • One of the challenges we face is that the Northeast Corridor has a lot of

  • curvature, a lot of geometry.

  • We really operate Acela Express on an alignment that in some places was

  • designed back in the nineteen hundreds and so it really was never designed

  • for high-speed rail.

  • And while the Acela line can reach up to 150 miles per hour, it only does

  • so for 34 miles of its 457 mile span.

  • Its average speed between New York and Boston is about 65 miles per hour,

  • which is in stark contrast to China's dedicated high-speed rail system

  • which regularly travels at over 200 miles per hour.

  • But some people are trying to fix that.

  • In 2008 California voted yes on high-speed rail.

  • Now, a decade later, construction is underway in the Central Valley of the

  • state. And right now it is the only truly high-speed rail system under

  • construction in the U.S.

  • Ultimately high-speed rail is a 520 mile project that links San Francisco

  • to Los Angeles and Anaheim, that's phase one.

  • And it's a project that's being built in building blocks.

  • So the one behind me is the largest building block that we're starting

  • with, this 119 mile segment.

  • This segment will run from Bakersfield to Merced.

  • Eventually the plan is to build a line from San Francisco to Anaheim, just

  • south of L.A.

  • But as it stands the state is almost $50 billion short of what it needs to

  • actually do that.

  • The current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take

  • too long.

  • There's been too little oversight and not enough transparency.

  • We do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced

  • and Bakersfield.

  • After Gavin Newsom made that speech President Trump threatened to pull

  • federal funding for the project.

  • We will continue to seek other funding.

  • We hope the federal government will resume funding the, contributing new

  • funds to the project.

  • I think in the future, as the federal government has funded major

  • construction of infrastructure over time they'll again direct money to

  • high-speed rail because in fact it's not just California but other states

  • are also interested in high-speed rail systems.

  • To complete the entire line as planned, the official estimate is now over

  • $77 billion and it's unclear where the money will come from.

  • So why is it so expensive?

  • Part of the problem in California, the big price tag is getting through the

  • Tehachapi, very expensive tunneling, or over the Pacheco Pass to get into

  • San Jose from the Central Valley.

  • You know, Eastern China, the flatlands of Japan where they've built the

  • Shinkansen, all of those are settings where they have, didn't incur the

  • very high expense of boring and tunneling that we face so the costs are

  • different.

  • And a lot of the money is spent before construction can even begin.

  • Just in this little segment here alone we're dealing with the private

  • property owner, we're dealing with a rail company, we're dealing with the

  • state agency and so just the whole coordination.

  • Then we're dealing with a utility company, just in this very small

  • section; we had to relocate two miles of freeway and that was roughly $150

  • million per mile.

  • So there's a lot of moving pieces to, you know, anywhere we start

  • constructing.

  • China is the place that many folks compare.

  • They have like 29,000 kilometers of high-speed rail and 20 years ago they

  • had none.

  • So how have they been able to do it so quickly?

  • And part of it is that the state owns the land, they don't have private

  • property rights like we have in the U.S.

  • You don't have the regulations we have in terms of labor laws and

  • environmental regulations that add to cost.

  • It also delays the projects.

  • For some reason and I've never really quite seen an adequate explanation as

  • to why costs to build transit or many big infrastructure projects are just

  • dramatically higher than in other parts of the world, including in other

  • advanced countries.

  • But the bottom line is we're really bad at just building things cheaply

  • and quickly in the U.S.

  • in general.

  • So it's not just rail infrastructure that is expensive, all transportation

  • infrastructure is.

  • Just the physical investment in the freeway usually will be 5 to 8 to 10

  • million per mile but if you add seismic issues and land acquisition and

  • utilities and environmental mitigation and remediation of soils and

  • factors like that it can become as high as 100 or 200 million a mile.

  • The numbers for high-speed rail can vary anywhere from 20 to 80 million

  • per mile.

  • The big reason why America is behind on high-speed rail is primarily money.

  • We don't commit the dollars needed to build these systems, it's really as

  • simple as that.

  • And it's largely a political issue.

  • We don't have political leaders who really want to dedicate the dollars

  • needed.

  • There's a lot of forces in America that really don't want to see rail

  • become our major mode of transportation especially because it will affect

  • passenger numbers on airplanes, it'll affect the use of autos.

  • So you have the politics, the message shaping and then the straight

  • advertising and all three of those coordinate and work together to keep

  • America kind of focused on cars and not focused on rail.

  • Some of the earliest support for rail came from the Nixon administration.

  • Some of the original capital subsidies and operating subsidies for urban

  • transit came from the Republican party, so I think it's only more recently

  • that maybe this has shifted that more liberal leaning folks who care about

  • climate and a whole host of urban issues have really argued for investing

  • very heavily in rail.

  • If you had Democratic leadership on the Senate and a different president or

  • potentially some leverage for a president to sign a new budget bill with

  • some dollars for high-speed rail, that could override those objections

  • from Republicans in Congress.

  • But I think it's mostly ideological.

  • They're big on highways.

  • They're big on things like toll roads.

  • They just, they don't want the government spending dollars on this kind of

  • project and they see it as something those socialist European countries do

  • but not something that should be done in, you know, car-loving America.

  • In my judgment, it would take a very strong federal commitment, almost sort

  • of a post-Second World War interstate highway kind of large scale national

  • commitment.

  • This is why some high-speed rail projects are trying to avoid public

  • funding altogether.

  • One company, Texas Central, plans to build a bullet train from Houston to

  • Dallas without using a dime of taxpayer money.

  • We're taking what is laborious, unreliable four-hour drive if you're lucky

  • and turning that into a reliable, safe 90 minutes.

  • And when you look at that as a business plan being driven by data, this is

  • the right place to build the first high-speed train in the United States.

  • The Texas project is backed by investors motivated to make a profit and

  • will use proven Japanese rail technology.

  • Texas Central's goal is to complete the project by 2025.

  • Another private company is even further along with its rail system, in

  • Florida. It's expanding its higher-speed train from Miami to Orlando.

  • Orlando's the most heavily visited City the United States.

  • Miami is the most heavily visit international city in the United States.

  • It's too far to drive, it's too short to fly, we had the rail link and

  • that was really the genesis of the project.

  • Wes Edens has invested heavily in Florida's rail project which used to be

  • called Brightline.

  • Brightline recently rebranded to Virgin Trains as the company partnered

  • with Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

  • The team at Brightline, which is now called Virgin Trains, has proven that

  • it can work.

  • The people actually want to get out of their cars and they'd love to be on trains.

  • In order to reach profitability, the company sacrificed speed to save money.

  • If you want to really go high-speed you have to grade separate.

  • So you basically have to build a bridge for 250 miles that you then put a

  • train on.

  • That sounds hard, and it sounds expensive and it's both of those things.

  • So a huge difference in cost, a huge difference in time to build and not

  • that much of a reduction in service.

  • And now tech companies are getting involved with infrastructure projects.

  • In the Pacific Northwest a high-speed rail plan is underway to connect

  • Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.

  • Microsoft contributed $300,000 towards research for the project.

  • Our number one priority from Microsoft as well it to really see and pursue

  • this high-speed rail effort happen.

  • If you look around the United States and where all of the Fortune 500

  • companies are located they all are in a similar situation to Microsoft.

  • The housing is unaffordable, traffic congestion is epic.

  • It's too hard to get anywhere and to get employees.

  • So high-speed rail can solve this same exact problem in numerous regions

  • around the United States.

  • So is the private sector the answer to bringing high-speed rail to the

  • U.S.?

  • If the private sector wants to invest in transportation and as long as it's

  • not impinging on the public taxpayers I don't see a problem with private

  • sector moving forward.

  • And I think there is some truth that the private sector is gonna have much

  • more of an incentive to hurry up on the construction and get things done