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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Monday, June 9, 2014

Unlocking Land Value to Fund Passenger Rail

In the April issue of Railway Age, Parallel Infrastructure CEO Frank Chechile brought up the Passenger Rail Working Group presenting to Congress a plan for a national intercity system all the way back in 2007. The fact that there was a committee should be a sign to all passenger rail critics that there is a bright future for rail--in spite of the heavy price tag.

It only makes sense because neither Congress nor the White House has the stomach to raise the gas tax from 18.4 cents/gallon where it's been for almost 21 years. The highway infrastructure is crumbling and yet Congress fiddles while Rome burns. Meanwhile, the friendly skies became the unfriendly skies years ago as going to the airport now equals hassle for most people--not to mention, the loss of many amenities on flights.

Since Washington is unreliable in terms of funding, rail operators will have to be very creative. Train stations and their surrounding areas will be the key to passenger rail's success moving forward. All Aboard Florida is already taking a page out of the Japanese playbook with its plans for its Miami station.

Now, there will be some people in the rail community who will bemoan train stations resembling malls, but Washington Union Station is an extreme example of a facility that isn't thought of as a train station first. Whether anyone knows it or not, it has been intimated that one of the reasons why the original Penn Station in New York City fell in 1963 was due to a lack of non-rail uses.

By finding multiple uses for train stations, future rail operators can safeguard themselves against the next downturn in passenger rail--decades, maybe a century, from now.

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