PennDesign meeting at White House leads to role in planning high-speed rail

High Speed Rail

A Penn School of Design group will take part in talks concerning the creation of a high-speed rail system for the nation’s Northeast Corridor.

PennDesign Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor, Practice Professor Robert D. Yaro and a team of 10 recent Master of City Planning graduates were invited to the White House on Sept. 16 to present their high-speed rail plan to the nation’s most famous rail commuter, Vice President Joe Biden. After the meeting, Biden invited the group to participate in a future meeting of the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, which is deciding the future of high-speed rail along the corridor.

“Vice President Biden had some really good questions about our proposal, particularly asking us to dig deeper in figuring out the best ways to pay for the system and finding domestic examples of where train stations have become economic development hubs,” says Jeff Barg, a recent PennDesign grad. “He’s as knowledgeable as anyone about the topic, which made his accolades that much more meaningful.”

Amtrak has been planning a high-speed rail line for years. Yaro says he believes that the students’ work on the project will help accelerate the process of bringing high-speed trains to the United States.

“We are a catalyst for that work. The rest of the world is ahead of us in offering high-speed trains. This is not a slam dunk, not preordained, but this is an important first step,” he says.

The PennDesign plan calls for trains to operate at least at 155 miles per hour, and run on specially designated tracks to avoid conflicts with other commuter and freight trains. The vehicles would transport passengers from New York City to Boston in one hour and 45 minutes. Amtrak’s current master plan for high-speed rail would take three hours and eight minutes for the same trip.

The PennDesign team created its high-speed rail plan as students in a course taught last spring by Taylor, a world-renowned expert in urban design and transportation, and Yaro, who also is president of the Regional Plan Association, a research and policy group in the New York area.  

Biden, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, D-PA, a representative from the Federal Railroad Administration, and a senior advisor for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act met with the group for one hour in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to learn more about its cutting-edge train service plan. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell participated via phone.

The PennDesign team presented its plan to Rendell earlier this year, and he arranged for the meeting with Vice President Biden.

During his 36 years as a senator, Biden commuted by train to Washington from his home in Wilmington, Del., whenever the Senate was in session.


Originally published on September 23, 2010