Shortly after his inauguration, President Barack Obama outlined a plan to develop America’s first nationwide program of high-speed intercity passenger rail service. Using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Obama Administration made $8 billion available for developing or laying the groundwork for 13 corridors across the U.S. including the Northeast (where one out of five Americans live). Supporters of this initiative soon hailed it as the most significant infrastructure program since the Eisenhower Interstate Program of the 1950’s.
Building high speed corridors provides numerous public advantages. In addition to providing greater interconnectivity between communities and developing transportation alternatives, the success of high speed rail offers new opportunities for manufacturing, the movement of goods and services and brings environmental benefits. U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood sees this as a legacy project that will make America more competitive, more productive and more united. I agree and the early response from the investment program has been encouraging as the U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced that nearly $80 million in grants have already been delivered to states.
The Northeast corridor is of special interest to Québec. In April 2009, the Boston to Montréal corridor was identified as one of the major corridors by the Obama administration. As recently as October 2009, Québec Premier Jean Charest met with New York State Governor David Paterson about the possibility of exploring a second Northeast option: the New York-Albany-Montréal corridor. The latter idea is not new as it was first advocated in the 1970’s by then Montréal mayor, Jean Drapeau. Finally, Secretary LaHood in a February meeting in Washington with Premier Charest agreed to support the creation of task forces to actively study that option. Just a few days ago, the Québec government appointed former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Raymond Chrétien to co-head the Québec-New York task force.
The potential of a high speed rail link to Montréal is highly promising. With a population of over 3.6 million, the Greater Montréal market is comparable in size to the Greater Boston area, which is on the current high speed Acela line linking Washington, New York and Boston. Just as free trade with Canada has proven beneficial to the State of New York, New England and Québec, greater transportation interconnectivity between those urban centers can only increase the commercial potential. After all, Montréal is a Canadian leader in research and development and offers an economy based on innovation technology, life sciences, IT, energy, transportation equipment and green technology. Montréal also has the highest per capita number of students in North America outside that of Boston, all factors of interest to the Northeast. And need I mention tourism!
Granted, there will always be challenges associated with such an ambitious project. They include competing financial, technological, environmental and economic interests. However, vision and leadership often triumph over obstacles. It will take political will and engagement in the months and years ahead. Europe, Japan and now China have answered the call of high speed rail. America appears to be next. A high speed rail link to Montréal can lead to closer links within the leading trading bloc in the world, the U.S. and Canada. We in North America should heed the call for greater interconnectivity and seriously explore the promise of high speed rail. Québec is all aboard.
*John Parisella is a guest blogger to AQ Online. He is Québec’s Delegate General in New York, the province’s top ranking position in the United States.