Dukakis on Pax Rail per NYTimes 1 Sept 2001
- September 1, 2001
A Down-to-Earth Solution to Airport Gridlock
By MICHAEL S. DUKAKIS
BOSTON -- Air traffic delays have reached epidemic proportions. With
jets coming into airports every few minutes at La Guardia, it's
every 110 seconds the slightest hiccup in the system sends air
traffic controllers to Plan B: Hold everything.
Despite some temporary improvement, one-quarter of all flights in the
country arrive late at their destinations. For the past five years,
every time a new flight is put on the schedule by the airlines, one
additional flight is delayed. If you're an airline passenger, you
just can't win.
But the answer to airport chaos is not forcing communities to accept
more runways or new, expanded airports. The answer is high-speed rail.
Fully one-third of all flights out of American airports today are for
350 miles or less. That is true at O'Hare in Chicago, where a war has
raged over plans for airport expansion. It is equally true in San
Francisco, where people are at each other's throats over plans to
fill in part of San Francisco Bay to build another runway.
If all those passengers were on a first-rate, high-speed rail system,
the gridlock that our airline passengers experience every day would
ease considerably. In the Northeast corridor, for example, 10 million
travelers a year have an option to take high-speed rail to New York,
Philadelphia and Washington, and 70 percent choose the train over the
Yet federal money continues to flow overwhelmingly to highways and
airports. This year Congress spent $33 billion on highways, $12
billion on airports and only $521 million on passenger rail and
more than a third of that went to a railroad industry retirement
Why don't we invest more in high- speed rail service? The typical
complaint is that people won't choose trains. But that's not true
if the service is fast, efficient and reliable.
Between Boston and New York last year, Amtrak carried enough
passengers to fill more than 3,800 shuttle flights between Logan and
La Guardia. With the introduction of the high-speed Acela Express
this year, those numbers are growing. In fact, in July Amtrak
recorded its highest monthly ridership in 22 years.
Moreover, the popularity of rail is no longer just a Northeast
phenomenon. In Washington State, Amtrak and the state have developed
the Cascades service, which connects Seattle to Portland and
Vancouver, producing a fivefold increase in ridership since 1993.
In California, where the state has committed $250 million for more
rail, the corridor between San Jose and Sacramento is the fastest-
growing rail line in America.
Last November, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state
constitution mandating a statewide high-speed rail system. The
governors of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia want the Northeast
Corridor to become the Atlantic Corridor, with high-speed rail
service from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta. (Construction has already
begun on the Washington-to-Richmond leg.)
In the Midwest, nine states have produced a high-speed rail plan that
would link Chicago with the major Midwestern cities.
In short, people all over the country want high-speed rail service.
Dozens of states, fed up with gridlock on their highways and winglock
at their airports, are demanding a transportation system that
Now the federal government must act. Congress is currently
considering the High Speed Rail Investment Act, which would provide
$12 billion in bond financing over the next 10 years to support high-
speed rail projects that have been developed by 36 states. As much as
$3 billion would be available for the Northeast corridor, allowing
Amtrak to reduce the length of trips between Boston and New York to
just three hours, and between New York and Washington to just over
two hours and serve many other communities in between.
The legislation has the support of 170 House members and 57 senators,
including Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, and Trent Lott,
the minority leader. With the support of a new president who says he
wants to tackle tough problems with bold solutions, we just might get
the rail service we need.
Michael S. Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic
presidential nominee, is a political science professor at
Northeastern University and the vice chairman of the board of