High-speed rail (HSR) has long been touted as a tool of economic development in addition to its primary function of improving connectivity and ease of travel. It now seems that high-speed rail also has the potential to contribute to the nation’s urban revitalization trends. Because HSR and other rail hubs are often located in urban centers, they are attracting an influx of tourism and activity to these cities. The mixed-use and transit-oriented nature of development around HSR hubs further supports the growth of city centers and downtowns. Hotel development is particularly advantageous around these hubs because of their accessibility to those arriving by rail. These hotels also benefit from the mixed-use environment of urban centers, which provide visitors with walkable access to retail, restaurants, and attractions. In exchange, hotels and their guests energize the surrounding area with human activity.
The economic development potential presented by high-speed rail is a stark contrast to past trends in travel and tourism, which were largely centered around suburban office parks, roadside hotels, and airports far from the urban core. Professionals and developers have predicted that the new HSR systems will “pull travelers back to urban areas and city centers” (Nancy Johnson – Executive VP, Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group) and create a “friendlier urban center that is more sustainable” (Annie Parker – Information Officer, California High-Speed Rail Authority).
With $8 billion in federal stimulus funds invested in HSR development so far, developments are already taking shape in key areas across the country. The Los Angeles-San Francisco line in California has been highly anticipated, as well as lines along the East Coast corridor. To the right is a rendering of the Union Station renovation in Washington, D.C., which will be accompanied by a 300 million square foot mixed-use project built above the rail yards that is already in the works.
The United States is not the only country taking advantage of the transportation and economic benefits of high-speed rail. Below are a few examples of HSR projects in other parts of the world.
>> In Mexico, plans were recently announced for a new high-speed rail line connecting Merida, Yucatan to Punta Venado, Quintana Roo. Punta Venado is a major port for cruise ships and train schedules will be coordinated with ship arrivals and departures. The HSR line will also serve popular Maya tourist sites further inland. The new service is expected to greatly improve connectivity for tourists and to boost the region’s economy.
>> China debuted the world’s longest high-speed rail line just last week, connecting Beijing and Gangzhou. Travel time on the 1,200-mile route has been reduced from 21 hours to 8 hours. Although the country’s ambitious HSR development efforts have not been without controversy, since 2008 the project has resulted in a nationwide network of 8 routes, covering 5,809 miles. The project has also helped China to keep unemployment under control and recover from the economic recession. Current issues facing the system include safety, construction debt of almost $640 billion, and difficulty in spurring development around the new rail lines.
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