Clearing the track for smart rail investments

If the U.S. is serious about building passenger rail infrastructure on par with systems in Asia and Europe, a whole host of steps are necessary. One is to expand the mandate of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as authorized in the 2008 Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act. As noted in the New York Times, this process is well underway, doubtless in part because thanks to President Obama and VP "Amtrak Joe" Biden rail is a serious part of the national agenda.

Another big step is, of course, making big investments. The Administration included downpayments in its budget and the Recovery Act, pumping about $13 billion into the endeavor.

Yesterday FRA took another step in the right direction, as explained in a press release  pursuant to the 2008 bill. Uniform design standards now apply to rail cars for intercity passenger travel, trumping the possibility of a wasteful and complicated patchwork of state-by-state standards. This optimal outcome is assured given the participation of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which issued its own release praising them here.

Standardizing designs for equipment is key not just to squeezing costs but to giving the domestic manufacturing supply chain a chance to gear up to meet coming demand for equipment, creating good, green jobs here in the U.S. This kind of policy advance helps achieve the goals of groups such as the Apollo Alliance, which has a new transportation program.

Congratulations to Joe Szabo and his team at FRA for taking this crucial step towards a real national rail system.