‘It’s a no brainer to invest in’ high speed rail: Andy Kunz

Andy Kunz, U.S. High Speed Rail Association President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Jared Blikre and Seana Smith to discuss how the rail lines are advocating for more funds from Biden’s infrastructure plan, and the clear benefits high speed rails could give America.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Well, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing forward by a bipartisan infrastructure framework this week. Now a coalition of businesses and labor groups, they're calling on Congress to do more. They want Congress to include billions of dollars of funding for high speed rail in the bill.

So to talk a little bit more about this, we want to bring in one of the people behind that push. And for that we have, Andy Kunz. He's the president of the US High Speed-- the High Speed Rail Association-- excuse me. Andy, it's great to have you here on Yahoo Finance. Talk to us just about this push that you're making and what you would like to see included in Congress's infrastructure package.

ANDY KUNZ: Yes, well, thanks for having me. High speed rail is a miraculous technology that will solve so many of our issues. And we just haven't been funding it almost at all, literally while we spend trillions of dollars on highways and aviation. So we've been-- we started this coalition to really make the case and bring all the forces together to hopefully influence that we actually get some real funding for a change.

JARED BLIKREE: I want to ask you about a project of Elon Musk. That's a boring tunnel company. And what are the-- how do you view that project? He's convinced that we could get rid of the New York City subway system. And he's made things work in Las Vegas. Is that another promising technology on the horizon that could solve what's become a pretty big problem there?

ANDY KUNZ: Well, I think the technology is probably not quite ready for prime time. There needs to be a lot of years of testing to prove the technology. With high speed rail, steel wheels, steel rail technology, there's over 30,000 miles of it all over the world. It's been in use for over 50 years. And it's a fully proven system. And it will do all the things that we say it will do because there's been proven 30 countries of it actually bringing all the benefits.

SEANA SMITH: Andy, getting back to what you said before that-- you need real funding-- I guess, more specifically, how much do you need? And are you confident that you're going to get some here under the Biden administration?

ANDY KUNZ: Well, if you look at some of the projects, for example, they're expensive to build. But they're about half the cost of highways. And we're still spending hundreds of billions of dollars on highways every year, between federal and state budgets. So we feel that with the benefits this will deliver, it's well worth the investment. And like I said, 30 countries around the world have been investing in this, where Japan started 50 years ago.

So this is not something that's new. And it's definitely proven out all over the world. So we've already been able to move the dialogue forward in quite a bit in Congress. And we're hoping to continue moving that forward so when the bills finish, come out the other end of the Senate, that there's actually substantial money for high speed rail so we can get moving on these projects.

JARED BLIKREE: And I have a quote from you I like. "When you look at early America, our history is all about thinking big and doing big things." This is a very big project, been on the horizon for decades. We have space tourism picking up. We're going to send Jeff Bezos into space tomorrow. Is this kind of a new zeitgeist that maybe we can capitalize on here? Or do you see more of the same kind of intractableness and gridlock in Congress?

ANDY KUNZ: Well, this is exactly why we started the coalition-- so we can stop the gridlock and actually break through and get these built. These systems have so many benefits, there's literally layers upon layers of benefits that the entire United States can benefit from. And so when you look at it that way, it's a no-brainer to invest in this.

SEANA SMITH: Andy, I guess, when we talk about high speed, to what extent do you think it's going to allow more meaningful competition with highways and also with airlines when we talk about travel not only for business, but really, for leisure as well?

ANDY KUNZ: Well, what it does is it complements all the other modes. And it will actually help make the highways function better and it will help make aviation function better by taking some of the overload off of those two systems and putting them into high speed rail.

When you see what other countries have in the rest of the world and how they-- a business person, for example, in France or Spain or Italy or China or Japan, can get to three or four meetings in a day on high speed rail because it's so efficient and so fast, you can set your watch by these. So they can outcompete a typical American business person who takes all day to get somewhere, waiting around in airports. And many times, you have to fly in the night before. So when you look at a global competitiveness, it's a no-brainer that we need to be doing this, just to even keep up with all the nations that have it now.

JARED BLIKREE: I'm going to ask you for some maybe facts and figures here. When we say high speed rail, how fast are we talking about? And then, do you have any numbers that kind of support the improvements and the efficiencies that you've been talking about here with us?

ANDY KUNZ: So what the rest of the world considers high speed rail is 186 miles an hour and faster. So that's a fully dedicated track. It's fully electrified. There's no grade crossings. There's no intersections with roads. There's no freight trains on the tracks. And so that's really what the technology takes. And that's why it's a bit more expensive to build than just upgrading an Amtrak line. Because you literally have to build a new corridor.

And that's what California-- you're showing some pictures there-- that's what California is actually building right now and why that project is taking longer and generating some controversy, just because it's such a big project. It's literally equivalent to building a very narrow highway. So but it's about half the cost of building highways, so it really ends up quite a benefit. I'm sorry, what was the second part of your question?

JARED BLIKREE: Oh, I was just wondering, do you have any facts and figures to support some of the efficiencies that you were talking about here. We got about a minute to break.

ANDY KUNZ: Sure. In the Cascadia, they've done a study. The line will cost about $42 billion to build. And it's going to generate $355 billion in economic development that will reverberate throughout the entire region. These train systems can carry 20,000 people per hour without delays, congestion, or hassles. That's literally more than a 10-lane freeway and two airports combined. So they have enormous capacity. And that's part of our problem right now. All of our modes are low capacity modes. And we're missing the high capacity rail systems.

SEANA SMITH: Andy Kunz, president of the US High Speed Rail Association, thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

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