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The Federal Role in the Future of Rail


According to a recent article in Congressional Quarterly, the New York City area spent at least $7 billion more than any other city in the country on public transportation in 2006: $521 per capita. Perhaps that is not so surprising considering how many of the region’s 18 million residents depend on the rail, subway, and bus systems. But just 8% of those funds come from the federal government.

By comparison, Paris ($1,852) and London ($1,242) spend more than double New York’s per capita sum on mass transit.

Nations such as China and India are planning to spend between 8 and 9 percent of their gross domestic product on infrastructure upgrades and mass transit…That commitment makes for a sober contrast with what the United States now spends on its efforts to shore up its transportation infrastructure while also launching more efficient, congestion-relieving mass transit projects: less than 2 percent of the nation’s GDP.

The article cites a few examples of successful local public transportation initiatives, such as DART in Dallas, that are leveraging private investment or local funding, but most agree that the federal government must assume a larger role. In fact, the independent National Surface Transportation Policy Review Commission released a report in January concluding there is no way local governments, even flush with more private funding, can sustain capital-intensive transit networks alone.

Obviously, this discussion is relevant to Moynihan Station. A complex partnership between various public and private interests is struggling to knit together the funds for a monumental transportation project with clear regional economic benefits.

But if Moynihan Station were in London would funding be such a problem?

Come to our first panel discussion on Wednesday to hear from the experts on the future of rail in the U.S. and how it will be funded.

Read “Mass Transit, Road Repair Vie for Federal Dollars,” by Colby Itkowitz for Congressional Quarterly