Thursday, February 11, 2010

Report shows benefits of commitment to N.J. rail

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The Obama administration's recent decision to award $38.5 million in high speed rail funds to New Jersey is the first step towards a stronger, faster rail system that will reduce congestion, oil use, and carbon emissions, but there is much still to be done, local media report. That was the message that New Brunswick's Mayor Jim Cahill and New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Program Associate Rebecca Alper made clear when they gathered at New Brunswick Train Station to release "The Right Track," a new research report from NJPIRG.

"Mass transit is an essential component to New Brunswick's efforts to be a sustainable, walkable, high-density, mixed-use urban center. Our residents rely on rail service to connect them to their jobs, to our region or to the entire world. New Brunswick is also a destination for thousands of people every day. High-speed rail will make it easier for residents and visitors to travel to and from our City and leave their cars at home," said Mayor Cahill.

The new report analyzes the potential of high-speed rail in nine different regions, including the Northeast, and presents 11 public-interest recommendations for how to spend high-speed rail investments in the future. According to data cited in the report, the completion of a national high-speed rail network would reduce car travel by 29 million trips and air travel by nearly 500,000 flights annually.

Last month, the Obama administration announced that 31 states would receive a portion of $8 billion in funding to build and plan for high-speed rail under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. New Jersey will receive $38.5 million towards the Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement project, opening up an infamous bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor between Newark Penn and Secaucus stations.

"We are long overdue in adopting a 21st century transportation system that will relieve congestion and reduce traffic on our highways," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, who authored the federal law that created the High Speed Rail grant program. "High speed rail is one of the best solutions to many of our transportation problems. The development of a robust high speed rail network will put people back to work and give the public a sound alternative to our heavily congested highways and skyways."

According to the NJPIRG report, the Northeast Corridor carries approximately 10 million passengers per year, but their high-speed travel hinges on the replacement of the rail line's aging and inadequate infrastructure, like the century-old Portal Bridge.

United Transportation Union's Daniel O'Connell knows first hand. "As a locomotive engineer, I have operated hundreds of trains across the span. There is no question that it needs to be replaced in order to alleviate the delays that plague NJ Transit and Amtrak riders on a daily basis."

Noting the economic benefits of passenger rail Congressman Frank Pallone added, "These upgrades create much-needed jobs and are necessary to keep our public transit system state-of-the-art, so that New Jersey can continue to be a leader in public transportation for the country. With the cost of gas rising, it is important that we work to give commuters other options that are affordable, reliable and fast. I look forward to working with NJPIRG, NJTRANSIT and all others involved in advocating for public transit as we work towards increased investment in public transportation on other important projects throughout New Jersey."

"The Portal Bridge project might one day be part of a national network of high-speed rail on a par with the bullet trains of Europe and Asia, but it is going to take a long-term commitment from all levels of government to plan and fund the system," concluded Alper, "Without such a commitment, this recent momentum could be lost. We simply cannot afford a false start on high-speed rail."

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