April 17, 2009

Obama Pledges Beefed Up High Speed Rail

US President Barack Obama on Thursday announced that the government would invest $13 billion for a high speed rail service to rival the express trains of France, Spain, China and Japan.

"Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination," said the president ahead of a trip to Mexico and Trinidad.

"It is being done -- it is just not being done here," he said, in reference to rapid train services in France, Spain, China and Japan.

"There is no reason why we can't do this -- this is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders.

"My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America."

"We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come," Obama said.

Obama said he would invest at least $13 billion for high-speed rail as part of his $787 billion economic recovery plan and future federal budgets.

"High-speed rail is long overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways," he said.

Obama's strategy proposes 10 high speed rail corridors in places such as Florida, California, the Pacific Northwestern states, the Southern United States and the Gulf Coast.

Obama touted the initiative as an environmentally friendly effort that would both ease transit gridlock and create new jobs amid the current economic downturn.

Under the recent economic stimulus plan, $8 billion in funding will be allocated for high-speed rail links.  An additional $1 billion per year for each of the next five years will also be included in the federal budget as a "down payment" on the new service.

Biden, who as senator used to commute daily between Delaware and Washington aboard Amtrak services, said that railways were not just a throwback to days gone by but were instead the transport of the future.

"It is about time we took those railways and made them the national treasures they should be," he said.

"They are the best way to reconnect and connect communities to each other, to move us all forward in the 21st century."

U.S. railways, which during the 19th century blazed the trail to America's westward continental expansion, are now beset by underinvestment.  As a result, many services have suffered and made flying the preferred form of travel.

In addition to the new high-speed rail corridors, Obama's plan also seeks to speed up existing railway travel in hopes of lessening the environmental damage of road and air transport.

Obama proposed future links between the San Francisco and Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles, and a new route in New England that would connect Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven and Albany.

The plan also envisions a new rail hub network in Chicago to link midwest cities such as St. Louis, Milwaukee,  Indianapolis, Kansas City and Detroit.

The federal government expects to initiate grants to states under the plan sometime later this year.


Image Caption: Conceptual view of high speed rail over the Altamont Pass west of Tracy, CA. Courtesy California High-Speed Rail Authority/Newlands & Company