Vicksburg will also play essential role in proposed system
By Earnest McBride
Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor
When the first I-20X high speed passenger train glides into the ultra-modern facility envisioned for Jackson over the next few years, it will be the harbinger of a new era of economic prosperity and excitement in, what some experts are calling, the Fifth Industrial Revolution.
Thanks to the exhaustive planning and development of banker-entrepreneur Richard Finley, president of the Birmingham-based Finley Group, and the dogged support of “Powernomics” founder and global purveyor Dr. Claud Anderson, Jackson, MS has fortuitously been placed at the forefront of the race to acquire the nation’s first true high-speed passenger rail (HSR) system. Initially, the system will run on an 800-mile route alongside I-20 from Atlanta to Dallas in as little as five hours, while promising to bring with it thousands of jobs and millions, if not billions, of dollars in spillover business revenue.
Five state-of-the art terminals in Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Shreveport, and Dallas will service the incredibly speedy trains that will travel along at a clip somewhere between 150 and 200 miles-per-hour, according to the planners.
Because of the special accommodations required for the trains to maintain their optimum speed, elevated tracks will be a necessary part of the system, Finley said.
“The economy of the future is happening now,” Dr. Anderson said last Friday (July 30) in an exclusive interview with the Jackson Advocate. “The marvel of it all is the advantageous position the majority Black population will have at nearly every mile along the way of this futuristic rail system that is well into its pre-launch and early development phase.
“This is the opportunity for Black investors and Black political leadership along the Cotton Belt to prosper as never before,” Anderson said.
Birmingham has been at the epicenter of high-speed rail development planning ever since the idea of such a system was embraced by former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, who saw a splendid opportunity to develop a Birmingham to Atlanta high-speed system in preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Arrington, in 1992, asked Finley to complete a feasibility study for the high-speed system in time for the upcoming Olympics. While that system did not come to fruition, Finley found himself far ahead of most other HSR system planners when the Obama Administration asked Congress to provide $11 billion for a “shovel-ready” high-speed rail system as part of its stimulus package of 2009.
Finley, at the time, was chairman of the Southern High-Speed Railroad Commission and the findings from his earlier study were a perfect fit for the high-speed rail system that was high on President Obama’s to-do list. With this expression of support coming from the very top, Finley was primed and ready to work closely with the Federal Railroad Commission and the U. S. Department of Transportation to develop his plan.
“We were looking at what would be the best approach to developing a high-speed passenger train in America,” Finley said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “Several different groups were investigating the possibilities at the same time. A California group explored the possibility of a fast train going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The Texas Central Railroad group was pushing forward the idea of a Dallas to Houston system, but they faced an enormous number of lawsuits regarding the right-of-way and the use of the power of eminent domain they needed to access the land routes. They were stalled at that point. We worked hard with our engineers on our plan that stressed passenger service. We had a good working relationship with Amtrak and asked the feds what they thought about it. We were not encouraged.
“The system that Amtrak operates has always given preference to freight,” Finley says. “The five big freight companies entered into an agreement with the federal government claiming that they would respect the passenger needs and give preference to the passenger trains. But they clearly never intended to live up to that commitment,” he said.
“They were into freight and as they got the public money, ostensibly to enhance passenger rail service, they developed the privately-owned infrastructure that benefited the freight companies. Consequently, the freight companies have done quite well off their relationship with Amtrak.”
Anderson says that Amtrak is blindly continuing to run along a losing track that needs a radical rehauling, if not outright abandonment.
“Unfortunately, the Biden administration hasn’t responded to the telephone calls the Finley Group and I have been making to get through to get their support,” he said. “Amtrak wants to spend $80 billion from the new Infrastructure bill on the same old stuff that has already proved a failure.”
While the railroads are governed by federal rules and authority, the states have the final word on where and when a railroad system might be launched.
Finley first presented his ideas to local officials and interested parties in the greater Jackson area in 2014. City and county officials welcomed the ideas presented at that time. Most of what was said then is still operational, says Finley, and he will soon be engaging in another round of talks with state and local officials.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said Tuesday through his spokesperson that he was well aware of the proposed high-speed rail system and the promise of economic growth that comes with it.
“It sounds promising,” the mayor said. “But we must do our own due diligence.”
The mayor also made it clear that he “is open to any discussion that aims to drive economic growth for Jackson.”
Mayor George Flaggs of Vicksburg was in quarantine due to a recent attack of the Covid-19 disease and was unavailable for comment before press deadline Wednesday. Vicksburg is expected to be an important extension and tech liaison of the Jackson station. It is also the headquarters of the U. S. Corps of Engineers.
Sharing her views on the new plan, Warren County Supervisor Shawn Jackson said she was very receptive to the overall plan and that it was right in step with some of her own ideas for what she calls the “triangle” of Mississippi – i.e., Claiborne, Warren, Hinds, and Rankin counties.
“I think there ought to be state-of-the-art transportation coming to the triangle of Mississippi,” she said. “This plan is right on time. I think it’s amazing, and I’m intrigued by what they’re contemplating.”
“The system will revolutionize intercity and interstate travel through five Southern states,” Anderson said. “Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas will attract investment, business, and job opportunities like never before. The cities of Atlanta, Birmingham, Jackson, Shreveport, and Dallas will rise to a new level of excitement. The demographics of these metropolitan areas comprise a combined fifty-seven percent Black population, which is more than four times the national average.”
Both Finley and Anderson are aware of the enormous costs that will come with the completion of such a massive project as the I-20X Line. Depending on the time frame, the total build-out cost could range from $33 billion to $35 billion or more. But several international financial funds have already given assurances of covering these costs, either in part or as a whole, Finley says in a promotional video readily available on Facebook.
Labor Department statistics estimate that 40,000 jobs will be created for each billion dollars spent in construction and development. This accounts for the promise of “hundreds of thousands of jobs” that will come with the completed project.
Despite the emphasis on Black ownership and direct engagement in the actual building and development of the extensive rail system and its collateral properties, there is no barrier to white participation or the involvement of traditional agencies and private interests in the process.
“I have no problem working with the chamber of commerce,” Finley says. “But they have to work on the terms we lay out. We’re not going to waste any time fighting when we could be negotiating our way forward.”
WONDERS OF THE TRAIN
The people who keep records of personal safety and travel time spent on a carrier offer a list of surprising statistics. Japan’s bullet train has never had a fatality in its 50 years of operation, according to the International Organization of Standardizations (ISO). The Webzine Money.Inc reports that “it now takes less time to travel by train using the (high-speed) bullet train than it does to get on an airplane.” China, the builders of the world’s fastest trains, has one capable of moving passengers comfortably at 373 MPH, with tickets at a surprisingly low price.
UNITED STATES LAGGING
Even though the federal government realized the need for a state-of-the-art, super-fast rail system more than 50 years ago, the nation has failed to come up with such a system during this half-century of concern.
The U.S. railroad system is so far behind Europe’s and that of the three major economies of Asia – China, Japan and South Korea – that it will likely be playing catch-up for the next half century.
“There is no high-speed rail system in America,” Anderson says, despite all claims to the contrary.
By way of contrast, Japan developed its first “bullet train” in 1964. China, France, Germany, South Korea, Italy, and Spain all have had HSR systems running at higher and higher speeds over the last two decades. China and Japan are running neck and neck in the quest for the speediest, yet safe, rail systems.
Anderson says he has gotten a positive response from Black people he’s spoken to from all over the country about the I-20X project. People are interested and supportive of this project, he says.
“One hundred percent of all the Blacks we’ve talked to have given us their support, even if they don’t live in those areas where the trains will run. What we can do that the prior project planners couldn’t do is we can pull together all those people,” he says.
The I-20 HSR development is one of those great opportunities that come along once every century and illustrates all the core principles of his “Powernomics,” the system he has espoused for that past 50 years, said Anderson.
“Under the 13th and 14th Amendments, the Constitution obligates every level of government to lift the burdens and legacies off the backs of Black folk in this country,” Anderson says. “But the elected officials are not living up to their Constitutional obligations.
“The Constitution guarantees Black people the right to invest in, enjoy, and avail themselves of every opportunity that comes along, free from restraint and undue interference.
“These Black and white elected officials are violating their oath of office by not carrying out what they swore to do,” he said. “And that is to guarantee Black people the right to participate and lead the way in economic enterprise and development. If they’re not doing this, they need to be put out of office.”