Bob Yaro joins us to explain the history and concept of North Atlantic Rail, a project that has attracted great interest because of its scope and ambition. North Atlantic Rail is an initiative aimed as building a high-performance rail network to serve New England and downstate New York, connecting New York and Boston with high-speed trains and reconnecting smaller cities of the region with high-performance passenger service.
We expect it to stir debate in the North Atlantic region and nationally, as the United States begins to look seriously at infrastructure investment for the 21st century. Bob’s breadth of experience is unparalleled and we’re delighted to have him explain the vision for North Atlantic Rail with Train Time.
Biography: Bob Yaro worked in regional and transportation planning in metropolitan regions and megaregions in the US and abroad. He also knows rural America, having been a professor of regional planning at UMass Amherst, where he founded and led the Center for Rural Massachusetts. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the president of the Regional Plan Association, where he led strategic planning initiatives for the New York Metropolitan Region for 25 years. At RPA he led advocacy efforts for more than $100 billion in transportation investments. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut and developed the North Atlantic Rail concept with his long-time colleague Kip Bergstrom. See https://northatlanticrail.org for more details.
Note: This transcript was created using AI and will be edited for readability BUT THIS EDITING HAS NOT YET BEEN DONE YET! The AI transcript is time-stamped , which is useful as a guide to finding a point in the recording, but the time-stamps are not a perfect match to the podcast because we’ve added an introduction and did some editing.
Karen Christensen, Robert Yaro
Karen Christensen 00:02
Welcome to Train Time, Bob. It’s a thrill to have you with us today.
Robert Yaro 00:07
Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your audience.
Karen Christensen 00:14
I don’t know, it seems like a long time ago since we were first introduced, I suppose it was about the time that you were starting that project that was then called rebooting New England. 2017.
Yes, that’s right. Yeah, we started this and again, it was remains unabashedly, a, a regional economic development project. Excuse me. You know, our goal, our focus, initial focus was on strategies to revitalize the older industrial cities or legacy cities of New England, places like Pittsfield and Springfield, and Waterbury and others, you know, they’re 30 or more of these places that have never quite recovered from the loss of manufacturing in the in the 1970s. And 80s. You know, when, for example, in Pittsfield, when GE left town, you know, they just it was like, they pulled the plug on a large part of the economy of Pittsfield in the Berkshires. And we just went spray Left, left, North Adams. And, you know, there have been some really important steps taken since then to revitalize the economy of these places, but it’s hasn’t been sufficient.
Karen Christensen 01:24
How did this come together? In your mind, I will tell us a little bit, I will certainly put biographical information online. But I’d like to hear a little bit of your story how you came into this?
Robert Yaro 01:38
Well, I’ve had, you know, it’s been a 50 year career working on City and Regional Planning and everything from rural I started ran the Center for rural Massachusetts, at UMass Amherst back in the 80s. And to urban, you know, I ran regional plan Association for 25 years in New York. And I described it as getting into the belly of the beast in the metropolitan area. So, you know, I’ve been, and I lived in Western Mass for a number of years, when I was teaching there, we were putting in North Hampton. And we have, you know, spending a lot of time, you know, across New England. And I’ve lived ironic I’m a New York native, but I but I’ve lived in, in New England, ever since I was 17, I guess. And so I’ve got a deep interest in, in, in the region. My first job out of school, I went to Wesleyan and the first job out of school, I was a city planner in New Britain, Connecticut, just at the point where the, you know, where were the bottom dropped out of the hardware city, for the world self-styled. And, you know, most of the most of the hardware manufacturer, other than Stanley works, left town or went out of business and, and help helped along by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which decided to ramp that one, not to free, limited access highways, right through the center of the city, just yeah, if this eviscerated the downtown in the end, and the neighborhoods around the downtown, devastating, and the city, you know, hasn’t quite recovered from that. And the same thing happened, all of these places. And so I got interested in revitalizing older industrial cities, I went to work for the city of Boston, in 2003. And my job was to was to, for quite a while I was the neighborhood planner for Dorchester, which is a third of the city and that in that neighborhood was just unraveling because of housing, abandonment, white flight, you know, a whole series of pathologies. And, you know, Boston had lost 40% of its population over a 30 year period at that point. And, you know, my job and our job at the Boston Redevelopment Authority was to turn that around, stabilize it and then bring it back. And it worked. I mean, and at any rate, I’ve been interested in these cities, and then in the transportation underpinnings at regional plan, a big part of our, our work was thinking about the future of the MTA and regional rail network. I been teaching since 1984, at the graduate level, City and Regional Planning. And in 2004, at the University of Pennsylvania, I ran an ambitious studio, the understated they named for which was a plan for America studio, where we looked at the long term trends, population growth, land use change, and so forth, and the infrastructure needed through the middle of the century. And, and at that studio, we had advisors of really the best people from both the US and UK and Europe working with us because the Europeans have done this kind of long range planning for continental Europe.
Karen Christensen 04:56
When did you start that up? When are you doing that? Well, I
started that that studios in 2004. And, and we’ve had a series of these studios where we’ve brought students and faculty and advisors to places around the world that are, you know, that are ahead of us on regional planning, or transportation and so forth to see how, see what the state of the art is. And they get advice from people who’ve been living with these problems, and other countries and so forth. So 2004, we were, we were in Sir Peter Hall, who was the Dean of British planners, University College, London hosted a group of students and faculty, for the studio. And we identified the emergence of what we call mega regions, networks of metropolitan areas and midsize cities that, that function as an integrated economy over a very large geography. And the first one, you know, which was not news was the Northeast, but there were, you know, 10 others, and eventually, we’ve identified a total of 13 of these places across the country. And they’re all they’re all 300 to 600 miles across, which means that they’re too large to be easily traversed by automobile, and too small to be efficiently accessed by airplane, you know, so what’s the motive choice, and it turns out that everywhere in the world that has similar places, they’ve built high speed rail systems, because you know, because it just fits beautifully in, in that geography. So that you can get, you know, most any place within an hour or two on high speed rail within the Northeast, or anywhere, the 12 other mega regions across the United States. And when we look closer at these places, and we did some research over a period of years, both with pen studios, and then I started a project at regional plant called America 2015, we, with support from the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, you know, we looked at the long term development trends in these places, infrastructure needs, and natural resource issues and so forth. And it’s very clear that that we needed, we need to build a network of these high speed rail systems, you know, one of one of these, at least one of these lines, and each, each of the 13 mega regions across the country. We developed a proposal, I think, 2005 or six for that system, it was more or less adopted by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2008. I think it was, and then funding, initial funding was included at the error recovery pretty modest. It was a billion dollars in a in a $900 billion recovery. Yeah. And, and it was not well done. And it turned out, you know, the, unfortunately got tied up in the nasty Washington party politics, you know, where Republican governors refused to accept the funds, you know, because it was Obama, one of Obama’s priorities, and they wanted to poke him in the eye. So not too much happened.
We got a few billion dollars in Northeast Corridor a few more in California high speed system, but it was not sufficient to really make these make these projects work. We stayed with it. In 2010, I did a studio with a colleague at Penn, Marilyn Taylor, who done a lot of work in Northeast Corridor planning, where we looked at the Northeast quarter of 2009, Amtrak came out with a proposal to spend $50 billion to produce a 15 minute travel time savings between New York and DC. And, you know, I said it doesn’t sound particularly ambitious to me a lot of money for not a lot of payback. And, and so we developed our own strategy for high speed rail. And again, we took the students, we had a, you know, fabulous group of advisors made really the best people in the US and the UK, advising the studio top, you know, engineering professionals.
We went to England just at the point where they were literally the week they made the decision to move ahead with HS to the high speed rail lines from London to Manchester. And we met with the politicians and the professionals involved in that decision. And so we came up with our own proposal and then a 90-minute travel time between New York and DC 100 minute travel time from New York to Boston, using new right of way on going east on Long Island, tunnel under the sound and then an inland route from Hartford to Providence, and that we had an interesting set of next steps on that thing. The final proposal one of our advisors was the
transportation director for the city of Philadelphia who had been at that role when Ed Rendell was mayor, before he became governor, I got a call from the governor after we presented this thing. And it was a story of the Philadelphia papers. He’d heard about it from his advisor. He said, “When are you presenting this to me?” So as a governor, “When would you like to see us?” A week later, I had a bunch of graduate students and faculty sitting in the governor’s office. And, you know, no more than about 10 minutes into the presentation. Rendell pulls out to his assistant says, “Get Joey on the phone.” And who the heck is Joey? You know, it was Joey Biden picks up the phone, and then Vice President Biden, and he says, “When are you presenting this to me?” And I mean, Rendell said, you know, we’ve been waiting for this for 30 years. He said this to a bunch of kids at Penn. And I think he just knew that, you know, Biden, Biden’s kids all went to Penn and there was a affinity there. So we were invited to present this at the White House, which we did in August of 2010. And, and I got about 10 minutes of the presentation, Biden says, Hey, this is great. I want to see this happen. And he directs the officials in the room and Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to get moving on this thing. And, again, the term get moving in Washington means different things to me. Yeah, than it does to you and me, they resulted in a majestic five year long, preliminary, cis process, you know, which, ironically, here’s the Vice President’s, you know, one of his top priorities. And they finished the study after he leaves office. And that’s what they did. And it landed like a dolphin both in the region and it ended with the Trump administration. And so we’ve stayed with it, we’ve 2017. I mean, the new piece of information was that the UK you know, I learned from friends, there had been an active, you know, British planning, and remember the Royal town planning, Institute, institution, so forth. And we learned that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Conservative Party had not just recommitted to HS to the high speed rail line from London, to Manchester, Leeds, it was always predicated on the notion that it would underpin an economic development strategy for the north of England and the old manufacturing cities there. But the new Conservative government got big went the next step and said, we’re going to initiate a comprehensive economic development strategy built around high speed rail and other activities, called the northern powerhouse, initiative. And, you know, so I was invited to meet with people who are putting this thing together to advise them on that which was very flattering and, and then I brought another team of students over in, I think, 2016, to meet with the people who are advancing the northern powerhouse in HS two and then HS three, which is the east west, high speed rail line. And, you know, the bottom line is that the British government is committing $160 billion to high speed rail investments, designed to revitalize old industrial cities in the north of England that have the same juxtaposition, you know, to London and the southeast that that our older industrial cities, New England, Hampton, New York into Boston, and raise the question, Well, why can’t we do this here? And that’s, so we ran this, this research project, a studio project, looking at looking at that issue, and that’s where the that’s where the proposal for the, you know, what we call rebooting New England, you know, later, we, we change the name to North Atlantic rails simply because there was a lot of misunderstanding about what rebooted to England that then, particularly on Long Island, and in New York City, where they right gave us the water, we chopped liver speech, and which I’m familiar with. And so we said, okay, let’s, let’s give it a name that encompasses all, all seven states in the, in the North Atlantic region. So that’s, that’s so gets us back to the present day, we launched this thing with a series. My, my colleague, and this has been Kip Bergstrom, who’s a classmate at Harvard and then a longtime economic development expert in Connecticut and Rhode Island. And Kip and I held a series of, of roundtable discussions across the region. And Massachusetts we held to because as you know, Western Mass is a different state in Massachusetts. And, you know, where we got, we basically got input from the state and local officials, civic leaders, business leaders on what the top priority rail investment priorities were. And that became, you know, the initial phase of North Atlantic rail so you know, projects like East West rail and in Massachusetts and, and others, the New Haven line, fixing the New Haven line, fixing the Hartford line, double tracking electrifying The Hartford line.
Karen Christensen 14:52
So can you do I’m looking at the map now, but why don’t you verbally explain the route, the stages, and then we can talk about some of the details, because I do have some questions. But if you could just explain it for listeners, that would be grand.
Yeah, well, there, you know, we’ve laid it out in three chunks, you know, and the first chunk is the investment in each state’s passenger rail priorities. Which, you know, which, at the, you know, each day was kind of promoting these things on their own, independent of other initiatives and other parts of New England and New York. And, you know, we, we basically mapped all of those and then began to connect the dots between these things to create some synergies between them. So it’s projects like East West rail, the, you know, upgrading modernizing the New Haven line, you know, which is, you know, been beset by, by, you know, a whole series, you know, so, these, most of this stuff’s 100 100 years old, 150 years old, and, you know, need desperately needs new investment just to bring it up to modern standards and so forth. Goals, which are to reduce travel times, increase frequency, make it more reliable, all of those things. The second phase is the High Speed Rail connection between New York and Boston. And that and they, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve identified an alignment that goes east from Penn Station, using a number of old freight rights away that are either abandoned or you know, used for one or two trains a week. And then a judicious amount of tunneling, some viaducts to go over existing tracks in places like Jamaica. And then using parts of existing alignments east of oil in Suffolk County, basically how to walk about and then a there are a couple of electric power rights away that we would use one of them runs 200 foot wide right away runs from Brancato station, to Port Jefferson village, we’d use that to get cut near the sound and then tunnel under the sound to Stratford. And people ask, you know, can we do that at 16 miles? And the answer is that they’re 23 tunnels that are of this length or longer that have been built or under construction around the world, everywhere, but here, you know, and we’re starting to look like a formerly developed country, when you know, we, we say to ourselves, we can’t build what the rest of the world is building.
Karen Christensen 17:31
And the reason you’ve chosen that is, is to avoid the coast on the north side of the Long Island. Yeah, there’s
so the existing New Haven line is the most congested rail corridor in the country, there is there no unused capacity, if you were going to run, if you’re going to run high speed trains, 150 plus mile per hour services, you’d have to blow a lot of the Metro North commuter services out of the schedule to do it. And to, to and there’s it’s such a, you know, well, you know, I’m not sure whether, whether Darien or Greenwich or Westport, you know, or the or the NIMBY capitals of the world, but you know, it’s a competition. And you know, can you drop? Can you drop two or three additional tracks through those towns? I don’t think so. So, you know, for a variety. And then the last thing, of course, is that a lot of it’s in the flood zone, and it’s going to increasingly be subject to Yes, flooding. Yes. And so it just didn’t sound like something that we’re going to build something is going to, we’re going to be using 150 years, we’ve learned we’d like it to be above water when we’re done. So the Long Island alignment, this new alignment is, is away from the coast, it’s entirely inland. It’s elevated from, you know, projected sea level rise and storm surges and so forth. And it serves big markets. I mean, there are 7 billion people on Long Island who are not on the northeast corner. Yeah. And a million people in greater Hartford who aren’t on the Northeast Corridor, at the moment and half a million people in Springfield that aren’t on the, you know, that don’t have access to the northeast corridor, they’re all brought into the, into the service area for this thing. So there are a lot of those are all the reasons for, you know, for that alignment. You know, it’s interesting when they in the future. Tier One, as I mentioned before, Federal Railroad Administration staff against the advice of their consultants said that while the easy thing is just to use the existing quarter, and they just ran into a buzz saw of public opposition, both in Fairfield County, but also in eastern Connecticut, western Rhode Island where people went nuts and so the that proposal was dropped and, and, and more or less said to the states here, you take care of it.
Karen Christensen 19:49
Sounds like it’s left many scars.
And though I think some people are Yes, and, obviously, you know, we’re very sensitive to the fact that this thing can’t just be you know, dropped on communities without, without a lot of discussion, we’re looking for a very robust, you know, set of discussions with, with the communities where this new alignment is going to go. And, you know, it won’t be easy to, you know, it’s always hard to locate something like this, I mean, I learned at RPA, that, you know, big projects of this kind have, you know, diverse, and multiple region wide benefits, and then highly focused and highly immediate, local impacts. And, and so it’s really hard, it’s really hard to get a, you know, get people motivated across, you know, a region with, you know, with 36 million people to get in support of it, it’s really easy to go into a town meeting, and, you know, Westport, Connecticut and get people to, to raise hell over something like this. So it’s hard to do. And, but, but we just have to do it. And, and we think that, you know, combination of intensive, you know, public discussions and a whole series of measures, we’ve identified two alternative rights away through Eastern Connecticut, Western Rhode Island, if it’s the least populated area of both states, we’re able to avoid, you know, towns and villages and natural resources that are sensitive, you know, Wildlife Habitat, habitat, wetlands, and so forth. But there will be some impacts. And though and as a result, there will be a lot of tunneling, a lot of cut and cover a lot of other measures to, to mitigate and spread probably some offsets of, you know, actual, actual, you know, cash payments to communities into the region to offset the impacts of that this thing. So,
Karen Christensen 21:42
we’ll come back to some of the details there. But what so that, that that is stage one,
that’s the, so that so the first stage for stage one is that, you know, the, basically the aggregate of each state’s highest, you know, rail priority, not necessarily high speed rail, you know, fixing the New Haven line, East West rail, double tracking the Hartford line, modernization of the MBTA commuter rail system. For Rhode Island, it was it was simply upgrading service between Providence and other cities in Rhode Island and Boston, which are highly constrained and very slow at the moment. And so that was an incident phase two is the high speed spine, which runs from New York Eastern Long Island, and that it lived from Hartford to Providence, into Boston. Phase Three is kind of connecting the dots between all of the above and it’s, it’s, it’s things like the extension of the Danbury branch to Pittsfield and, you know, double tracking the Waterbury branch. And I mean, it’s basically turning this whole thing into an integrated network where you can get from anywhere in the region to any other place in the region a lot better a lot faster than you can now. One of the remarks of our British advisors was this by analogy, they said, Well, you know, if you, if there was a saying, You can’t just be building the high speed spine, because that doesn’t really connect all the places you need to connect. And they use the analogy, if you built an airport, and they said it was the best airport in the world, but there was only one airport, it would be useless. If you build two airports, well, that would be interesting, you get from one place to the other. But if you build a network of airports, where you can get from anyone to any other place, then you’ve created something of enormous value. And it also applies in the rail network, you’ve got to connect all of these different lines of different places to each other.
Karen Christensen 23:40
And that’s what your map shows, as I’m looking at it now that we see Pittsfield, for example, as it becomes, you know, each one gets to it from different places. And in fact, although this doesn’t extend to all, buddy, obviously, you could go there and
yeah, look, I think, you know, this, this is we don’t see this as the, you know, the end state that in fact, once you build this network, and you recreate, you know, rail culture in the, in this part of the world, which are we already have a strong one, we’ve got something like two thirds of passenger rail and, and rail transit ridership in the country in the northeast, you know, but you know that, yes, indeed, you could, you could there, bunch of other services, connecting the dots between Springfield and Albany, through Pittsfield, and so forth, that could happen later on.
Karen Christensen 24:31
Now, the total I see here is about 100 billion,
little over 100 billion. Yeah, and this came out of, you know, cost estimates that we started with in in 2010. And then we updated them in 2016 and 17. We had, you know, some of the top railroad engineers in the country working with us. And, and there they were based on comparable here. Well, here’s what happened. They were based on comparable costs that were coming out. of California, high speed rail, and so Northeast Corridor improvements and others, we took a closer look at the initial estimates which were much higher. And we said, well wait a second, these are when we compared them with the costs in Germany and the UK and France and so forth that these cost estimates the unit costs were five times
Karen Christensen 25:18
what the rest of the world wanted to ask you about that, because I think you were involved in some of the analysis in New York of some of the issues related to the subway,
yeah, we’d lead, I lead a research project that looked at Well, first we did, we did private construction waited across, you know, multiple to build high rise, apartments and office buildings in New York than it did another, you know, big union cities in the US and so forth. And then we led a follow up project that looked at construction costs on the MTA, other transit, railroads and so forth. So that led us and then, you know, one of my last projects in New York was working with Andrew Cuomo on the Tappan Zee Bridge, to do Mario Cuomo, bridges, bridges that replaced the old Tappan Zee Bridge. And, and we kind of pulled out the stops to develop a process that did all the things that people said, either couldn’t be done or very hard to do. And we got to record a decision on the on the environmental impact statement, in nine months, instead of nine years. We used to design build construction, a bidding process that that got a construction start, the selection of the of the design build team and a construction start in about 14 months. And then a and then a completion of the First Bridge and three and a half years. And second one a year after that. And a total construction cost, that was about half of what everyone said it was going to cost because it got done, you know, in four or five years instead,
Karen Christensen 26:57
right, so that itself is huge.
So part of North Atlantic rail is not just the physical, you know, the map, but also a process that we’re proposing to create a new partnership between the seven states and the federal government that we’re calling North Atlantic rail Inc., that will be authorized to obviously be, you know, not be subject to the red tape and the bureaucratic stuff that goes on in big agent bureaucracies, like the Federal Railroad Administration, would be able to do the kind of creative permitting and procurement and project labor agreements that was it that was a big part of the Tappan Zee is getting the unions to agree to, to, not to not to use traditional labor practices, and, and, and so forth, which resulted in a lot of featherbedding and delays and costs cost increases. So this project
Karen Christensen 27:52
would not be managed by the states individually or something that would that would it be as a central entity to put this to make this happen?
Well, that’s the idea. Yeah, new a new entity. And we, you know, we learned this from the Brits, where they have created these special purpose. They call them delivery companies with public authorities that are established to deliver a big project like HS two or HS three or cross rail and, and then at the end, once the project is completed, this company goes out of business. They’re lean and mean, they’re mostly small staff that administers the process, lots of contracting out to consultants and others, you know, and, you know, just as the most efficient way to deliver a big project like this, you know, we’d be authorized to do design, build, design, build, operate, maintain, you know, various forms of public private partnerships, wherever it’s the most efficient, and cost effective way of delivering the project, it would be authorized to contract with Amtrak and with the States, where appropriate, you know, we might contract with Amtrak to rebuild portions of the right away that they own and operate, for example, but the idea would be to break it out of the usual bureaucratic processes. And we think we can achieve very significant cost savings and time savings. You know, we’re calling for a construction period of 20 years, which is probably, you know, half of what this would take if we went through the conventional bureaucracies and procurement processes and so forth.
Karen Christensen 29:34
So is that this the main way that that the North Atlantic rail differs from some of the other there are a congressman Moulton, for example, has proposed in the national high speed rail project, but I think that that I don’t know that the way it would be executed is different from kind of the way things have been have been done in the past in the United States, this is quite a different approach, isn’t it?
Well, so I think, you know, we’ve been working with Congressman Bolden, the newest version of his draft legislation calls for enables the creation of multi state authorities like this one doesn’t go as far as it needs to go. You know, but it makes possible the creation of these of these entities to design and build. So that’s, that’s not it’s, it’s, you know, very consistent with what we’re thinking.
Karen Christensen 30:33
I say, so it’s really a matter. So what happens next? How do how does something like this, or this, you know, the different proposals to do different initiatives that are being discussed, how how’s, you know, the listeners supposed to understand what’s going to happen, and maybe what they can do to help speed things along.
Also, we’re working with the congressional delegation across the seven state region. And we’re working with mayors, our, our, our new co-chair is mayor, Luke Bronin, from Hartford, who, you know, is, is reaching out to mayors across the seven states state region. And we’re finding that that this is resonating, we’ve reached out, we’ve had held a series of zoom conversations, and one on one conversations with groups of business leaders, mayors, civic leaders, environmental justice leaders, and so forth. And I will describe this as a bandwagon but I think we’re starting to see some momentum developing around this thing. The reason this is happening coming to a head now is that is that, you know, with Amtrak, Joe Biden in the White House, for the first time, and, you know, maybe decades we have, we have somebody in the White House who sees rail as a priority. Biden has proposed a two plus trillion dollar infrastructure program with a that will have a high speed rail, title, and, you know, money earmarked for high speed rail projects across the country. So we see a real opportunity here to have this project be authorized and funded. And, you know, it’s a once in a probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t know when it will happen again, but a long time. One like never right.
Karen Christensen 32:27
One of the things I’ve heard you say, Bob before is you explain why New England, as you know, Northern powerhouse in the UK, but I mean, you talk about New England as a powerhouse in the past and potential powerhouse in the future. Can you go into that a little bit for us?
Well, a couple of thoughts. And one is just that, that these old, you know, manufacturing centers across New England, these are the places that, you know, powered the national economy and the tax base of the country for 200 years. And they’re quite capable of doing it. Again, they have extraordinary assets, they’ve got great bones, they’ve got most of them have higher educational institutions, teaching hospitals, they’ve got you know, they’ve got research institutions, they’ve got a well-educated workforce, and so forth. And the problem has been that they have become detached from the economy of places like Metro New York and Metro Boston that that have become the engines of the national economy. So we’re really talking about restoring their place in the firmament and in the national, in the regional and the national economy, they have the potential, instead of being a drag on the economy of the North Atlantic region, they have the potential to become engines once again, as they have been for most of the history of the country. The other thing we have going for us is that, you know, you know, the bad news is that we have, you know, six New England states in New York that don’t have, they basically don’t have diplomatic relations with each other. They there’s not a long history of collaboration, projects, projects like this. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if we work together, we got 14 United States senators, you know, for a place with an economy that’s, you know, the size of California is a little bigger than California is, of course, California has data centers. So we have an opportunity, we have an enormous cloud, you know, so, you know, Biden wants to move his you know, what the politics of Washington and the senate look like at the moment, it’s going to be 50, you know, plus one for everything. For 50 plus Kamala Harris. And so we have 14 members of Congress who we hope are going to say, well, we really like this program, but we want to make sure that that funding is included for North Atlantic rail to benefit our part of the country. And we assume that we assume that there will that we, and we know we know and we’re working with people in California and the Pacific Northwest and Nevada and Texas and other parts To the contrary, and we’re also going to be seeking funding for this thing. And in the wonderful way that the Congress works, I suspect that there are going to be some accommodations made between representatives of each of these regions to include their projects. And in this in this bill,
Karen Christensen 35:16
well, that’s what I, you know, before we close, I wanted to step back a little bit and look at the country. You know, one of the things you and I’ve talked about is the rural urban divide. And, you know, the political impact the economic impact. And my, what I think I’m hearing is that this kind of connectivity is a model for other regions you’re thinking of. And obviously, there are other regions of the country thinking about it. What I mean, this, this isn’t just something for one place, it’s a conceptually, one can apply it elsewhere. Am I right?
Absolutely. You know, we’re by no means alone in and in having, you know, cities like, like Pittsfield, or Springfield, that have been left out of a lot of the prosperity of the last 40 or 50 years. Last month, six mayor’s from the Midwest, got together on a on a wall street journal, op-ed piece calling for a Marshall Plan for the for the for the Midwest. And they call they call for a high speed rail network. In that part of the world, Pete Buda, Judge, the new Transportation Secretary worked on an upgrade of the of the rail connection between South Bend and Chicago. That had been, you know, called four decades ago and finally succeeded in getting funding for that, you know, I think there are going to be we know that there are high speed intercity rail initiatives, in several places across the country, many of them have the same challenges, they know that, that we do, certainly the Midwest, southeast, you know, California, the Central Valley and, and the Inland Empire had, you know, the same challenges of being detached from the boom towns along the coast. You know, all of these projects are going to be designed to address that, that challenge.
Karen Christensen 37:24
Yeah, so we’re addressing issues that are really common to many, many parts of the United States. And a project like this, obviously. I mean, I often think of Pittsfield in the surrounds is big, you know, we have a lot of the same issues here that people in, in, you know, the rust belt in, in remote rural areas that feel cut off.
Well, you know, the rust, the Rust Belt starts in, in millinocket, or someplace, you know, starts in Maine, and, and, and New Hampshire, and then stretches East across New England, and upstate New York, to Pennsylvania and Ohio. I mean, we’re, it’s, it’s the same challenge that in our old industrial cities that you face in the Midwest, network of industrial, old industrial cities, and the solutions are going to be similar, you know, and again, we look at the rail system as a platform for a broader economic development strategy. It’s not the only thing that you do, but it’s the it’s one of the first things that you do. And then, and this is where,
Karen Christensen 38:51
yeah, I’m still here. You can you can call me at any quick Well, I was going to say that, that, you know, the rail system is, is a platform for the broader economic development strategy that needs to unfold in places like Pittsfield and Springfield, and others, Waterbury, you have it? Yeah, and this is where we’re continuing to learn from our counterparts in the UK. The EU, it’s interesting that a group of our colleagues have created a strategic plan for the United Kingdom called Up 2017. It’s modeled after my, that you, America 2050 project, and it’s, it’s resulted in Boris Johnson adopting a national quote, leveling up strategy, where the goal and they’ve you know, they’ve reaffirmed the commitment to HS to NHS three in the northern powerhouse, but now they’re committing additional resources, structural reforms in governance, they’re creating come bind authorities that are essentially Metropolitan service districts around all of the cities in, in the north of England and Scotland and Ireland, Northern Ireland, and so forth. So a whole series of things that are that are, you know, that are designed to address the challenge of revitalizing it, reinvigorating these old industrial cities together, man, go ahead, we have so we have a lot to learn from this, we haven’t done anything like this, ever, you know, maybe since the New Deal, but maybe ever and, and it’s desperately needed. Another probably 40% of the country that’s just been left out of the prosperity of the last, the last 40 or 50 years. It’s underpins a lot of the political challenges. So many people are mad as hell, in these places, and they should be because the government hasn’t lifted a finger to help them ever, or in decades, anyway, not only that, since the New Deal, and it’s a long time. And so I, you know, I think that, you know, we see this project as the foundation as the essential, essential, you know, first step in revitalizing these older and cities, older cities, and, and much of this will happen, you know, the individual cities themselves, local leadership, local businesses, mayors, and so forth. You know, doing the bootstrapping that needs to be done once we created this network and reconnected the cities physically with each other, and with the, the economic engines in New York and Boston.
Karen Christensen 41:26
Well, Bob, this is fascinating. And I think it would be really great if I could get you to come on, if we could do some kind of an open forum that would bring some of the people from the smaller areas, you know, the last citizens a chance to listen to this and, and ask questions and think about how it would apply. I think that that’s it’s creating that vision for a future that’s more connected. would be, is really what people are looking for now is some new ideas about the future. So this is obviously very stimulating.
Well, one last one last time, that is all despite all this speculation about what the post COVID, you know, world is going to look like and, you know, clearly there’s going to be more work from home than there’s ever been. And, you know, and we don’t know, we don’t know, to what extent probably some kind of hybrid where people work at home. Some of the time can be to offices, some of the time that might be more distant places. But there could be a wholesale restructuring of the of the economy, to address the overconcentration of population and jobs and activities in the heart of Metro Boston in Metro New York, which is hurt everybody. We believe that it’s hurt New York, and it’s hurt Boston? Yeah. Even before COVID, there was a you know, for the last five years, it was an out migration of jobs and residents from both of these places, just because they’re too congested and too expensive. And, though and we so we believe that that then in fact, there should be a and there has begun to be a move of people in jobs to smaller cities across the country, and places that are more livable, that are lower costs that have you know, better quality services and so forth. And, and that creates an extraordinary opportunity, rather than just sitting back and, you know, wondering what’s going to happen, why don’t we create the future that we want. And we believe that the North Atlantic rail proposal and its counterparts in other parts of the country will create that new infrastructure that can support a much more balanced economy and much more balanced in a way of life for people across the country?
Karen Christensen 43:49
Well, that’s a fantastic vision. I would love to have you come back in another six months or a year and tell us what’s happening.
That’d be great. Love to do it.
Okay, thank you.
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