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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on High-Speed Interurban Ground Transportation.

March 04, 1965

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

I am pleased to transmit to Congress proposed legislation for high-speed ground transportation research and development. This legislation will help us to bring scientific and technical talent to bear on an increasingly important area of transportation not previously subject to intensive, continuing inquiry.

The life of every citizen is influenced by transportation service. This vast economic activity not only absorbs one out of every five GNP dollars; it shapes the environment in which we live and work. Advances in our transportation system must constantly be made if we are to continue to enjoy growth and prosperity--and if America is to be a liveable Nation.

The last three decades have produced great technological achievements in air and highway transportation. Commercial planes today fly three times as fast as they did in the 1930s. Automobiles speed along modern highways at greatly reduced travel time. The progress of our rail transportation system, unfortunately, has not matched these strides.

I believe the power of science and technology, demonstrated so well in the evolution of air and highway travel, can be utilized in the solution of other transportation problems, especially rail transportation.

Striking advances in intercity ground transportation--advances in speed, reliability, comfort, and convenience--are needed and possible. In the last 50 years, intercity freight tonnage has risen four times, and passenger travel has increased 25-fold. In 1960 Americans travelled over 600 billion passenger miles, exclusive of local movement. That figure will more than double by 1980.

We face an imminent need for improved intercity transportation in the densely-populated area along the East Coast--between Washington and Boston--where travel is expected to increase by 150% to 200% between 1960 and 1980. Freight shipments during the same period may nearly double. Other such "corridors" can be identified throughout the Nation. Advances in the transportation of goods and people safely, reliably and economically in one densely populated area will be directly applicable to other regions.

It is clear that we should explore the feasibility of an improved ground transportation system for such heavily travelled corridors. The program outlined by the Secretary of Commerce calls for research on materials, aerodynamics, vehicle power and control, and guideways. Information requirements for regional studies and evaluations are to be defined and the necessary data collected. We must learn about travel needs and preferences, in part through the use of large-scale demonstration projects. New methods of analyzing the problem will be developed to give adequate consideration to the large number of regional and local characteristics which influence the performance, acceptability, and cost of all kinds of systems.

The task is large and complex. Evolutionary improvement in the existing railroad system must be compared to much more radical and longer term developments. Systems proposed must be compatible with urban transportation plans. The research and development activity will require the services of many outstanding scientists, engineers, administrators and business executives. But I know that we will find the skills in industry, in the universities, and in government-both national and local--to do the job. The consequences of beginning now will be vital, for experience has demonstrated to us that dollars spent in sound research and development produce benefits many times over.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The text of the draft bill and the following statement were released with the President's letter.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE TO UNDERTAKE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT IN HIGH-SPEED GROUND TRANSPORTATION AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES "The purpose of the proposed legislation is to authorize the Secretary of Commerce to carry out activities relating to the development of high-speed ground transportation, thereby contributing to the improvement of the national transportation system.

"Efficient surface transportation has always been a vital force in promoting the economic growth of our Nation. The President has emphasized that we must improve ways of transporting people and goods safely, reliably, and economically over relatively short distances in densely populated areas.

"The Northeast Corridor and other densely populated areas face critical inter-city transportation problems which require the application of advanced technology to ground transportation systems. The proposed legislation would authorize research and development activities which could be expected to result in the development of more efficient and economical inter-city transportation systems. It should be emphasized that the proposed legislation is not limited to a consideration of the transportation needs of the Northeast Corridor, nor should it be regarded as being for the sole benefit of one particular region of the Nation. On the contrary, the activities to be conducted would be beneficial for the Nation as a whole, and would assist during the coming years in the solution of the transportation problems of densely populated regions in the Nation.

"The proposed legislation is not designed to benefit or to concentrate solely on one particular type of transportation. Wholly new kinds of vehicles, guideways and operational and control systems may evolve from concentrated technological research in high-speed ground transportation. Such results can be foreseen within the scope of present and foreseeable technology. A new high-speed ground transportation system would differ radically from passenger trains and railways as we know them today.

"The research and development activity which would be carried out under the proposed legislation would be accomplished in cooperation with all relevant elements of our present transportation system, whether privately or publicly owned and operated.

"Initial demonstration projects utilizing present railroad technology would be conducted with Federal participation. Such projects would involve relatively low cost improvements in present rail service, for the purpose of measuring market response to higher rail speeds, variation in fares, greater travel comfort and convenience, and more frequent service.

"In order to determine the demand for transportation and to evaluate the relative economic efficiency of different systems, section 2 of the proposed legislation would authorize the collection of transportation data and statistics. This data is essential in arriving at sound policy decisions in the future regarding high-speed ground transportation as well as other decisions on the improvement of the national transportation system. Present statistical programs do not fully meet these needs. For example, origin and destination data on travel and more complete and accurate information on travel patterns during periods of peak use are needed. Also needed are standard statistical definitions and location codes.

"It is anticipated that work performed during the next three years will be sufficient to permit decisions to be made concerning future activities in high-speed ground transportation. Clearly there will continue to be need for carrying on fundamental research and development in ground transportation systems as well as to continue collection of adequate transportation statistics. There may also be a basis for pioneering development of new ground transportation systems in the Northeast Corridor and in other areas of the Nation."

A bill authorizing the Secretary of Commerce to undertake research and development in high-speed ground transportation was approved by the President on September 30 (see Item 536).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on High-Speed Interurban Ground Transportation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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