This last November, when Californians were voting to burn a ban on gay marriage into the state's constitution, the electorate also voted – by about the same margin – to fund the initial stages of a high speed rail system that would connect Los Angeles with San Francisco with a train that can hum at about 220 miles per hour. The idea is that this will increase tourism and some business travel in the state, as well cut down on congestion.
There was discussion when Mario Cuomo was governor to introduce a Magnetic Levitation (Mag-Lev) train that would connect Albany to New York City. A Magnetic Levitation train uses magnetic forces to propel the train as it hovers over the rails, making the train run much faster and quieter. Mag Levs can reach 400 miles per hour. As Cuomo faded into the political sunset, so did talks of such a train.
Consider all of the things that matter in our economy and in our own professional lives. Consider the high cost of living, and then think for a moment about a town called Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. This is an old mining town, 162 miles from New York City. Most of the homes there were built by the mining companies for their employees. The homes are small, but certainly sufficient for a family. But in Mahanoy City, these homes go for under $100,000 quite easily. I told my friend Bill Finegan about the price of a house I looked at in this town. "Is it on fire?" he asked me.
People in this town have good values, they lived here when there was work here and football on Friday nights. The problem for people in this city is that because their real estate is so under-valued, they are drawing unemployed and down on their luck types from Philadelphia.
Many New Yorkers work in Manhattan. Most do not live in the city however. If a high-speed rail could connect towns like Mahanoy to New York City in an hour– it would reinvent our economy. Some people love living in New York City, but many would like to raise their kids in more rural area. We should make this possible. It would also breathe new life into suffering rural areas. If you think you've seen poor folks in New York City, you need to take a drive through Mahanoy or neighboring Shenandoah Valley.
Asking a storeowner about the economy in Mahanoy, he told me "I'll be honest with you, it’s depressed."
"That's okay" I said "so am I."
Consider the blue-collar jobs that come with laying track that could connect areas like this to a point on the Metro North. Think about a house with three bedrooms in a part of upstate New York or Pennsylvania that you could get for $200,000 instead of $450,000.
The new president talks about infrastructure. Projects like this will make it easier for people to stay in neighborhoods in which they grew up and still have a career. It will cut down on our dependence on oil-producing countries. It will cost some serious money in the beginning, no question. It will have a huge payoff later.
Consider the people that are calling for this type of project. Paul Weyrich is one of the biggest conservative voices in America. He helped co-found the Heritage Foundation. Weyrich has editorialized for a long time that the country needs a serious high-speed rail system. Writer Stanley Crouch has recently written about the issue with the same passion.
I have done a lot of work in public policy on the issue of housing and urban development. But no matter how trying a situation is according to the data in urban areas, many of our county's poor are in rural areas. By connecting small towns with large cities with a high-speed rail system, we can revitalize our local economies.
Nevada is looking for a way to build a high-speed rail to California. No shock there. If they can get people into Vegas from Los Angeles in an hour, that bodes well for both sides. As a candidate in 2000, I thought this kind of idea would be good for Rockaway. A fast train that can get people to lower Manhattan, I thought, would do well for real estate in Rockaway. I thought investment bankers in Manhattan would like to live with an ocean view, and still be able to get to work in 30 to 40 minutes. Maybe this idea works better in some places than in others, but we need to try.
There are other costs that are not as obvious. The land for any new track needs to be surveyed, and then leveled. Add what could be potential lawsuits, and legal considerations such as eminent domain, and you are spending a lot of money a decade before you even have a train. But that is the process, and it may as well begin now, so we can give hope to constructions workers, as well as to small towns.