High Speed Rail: $8 Billion Down Payment on Jobs, Security, and Sustainability

Last night, I wrote that I was excited to hear President Obama lay out plans to recover the economy, enhance our energy security, and cut pollution by investing in an efficient, 21st-century high-speed rail network. But I had no idea how thrilled I’d be to actually see the Administration’s plans on paper.

Today, the president announced the first big steps toward a network of high speed rail corridors across the nation. The $8 billion in awards will touch 30 states in every region of the country, and are a down payment on a truly visionary transportation system.
Completed in 1992, our highway system is second to none in the world (though it is in dire need of repair and rehabilitation, which must be the focus of new highways investments). But in other areas, our transportation system is woefully behind our competitors in the global economy.
High speed rail has been up and running in Europe and Japan for years, and their systems continue to expand. China is investing tens of billions of dollars in their rail system, as are other Asian nations. Other emerging economies such as Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa all have major systems scheduled to come on line in the next decade.
As I said last night, President Obama’s commitment to high speed rail is a commitment to build the other half of the transportation system. Paired with new investments in local transit, commuter rail, and local pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, it is a key part of a rebalancing of our national transportation system. With $2.5 billion more from Congress on the way in 2010, and plans for major new investments proposed by House Transportation Chairman Jim Oberstar, this rebalancing starts now.
So what exactly does the president’s plan look like? Eventually, each of the major regions of the US will have high-speed rail connecting most major cities. Though this is a long term goal, today’s announcement will take a big step toward achieving it. The strategy is to invest in key corridors in a phased approach, building on our successes with each phase.
The first phase will concentrate funding in the West, Midwest, and Southeast.

  • West - $2,942,000,000
  • Midwest - $2,599,600,000
  • Southeast - $1,870,000,000
  • Northeast - $485,000,000

Grants fall into three categories: 1) true high-speed rail service, aimed a projects that will run at up to 150 miles per hour when completed; 2) emerging high-speed rail, which will bring existing passenger rail corridors up to speeds of 110 mph, with plans to increase speeds in the future; and 3) a series of projects to lay the groundwork for future high-speed rail corridors.

Largest awards

  • California High-Speed Rail: $2.25 billion
  • Tampa-Orlando Phase 1: $ 1.25 billion
  • Chicago-St. Louis Midwest: $1.1 billion
  • Madison-Milwaukee Midwest: $810 million
  • Seattle-Portland: $590 million
  • Charlotte-Richmond-Washington, DC: $520 million

The president’s rail initiative will have both an immediate and lasting impact on our country. Not only is this investment going to create tens of thousands of jobs and build our economy in the near term, it is going to continue to contribute to our economy in the long term.
When trains start running in each corridor, it is going to be a boon to both American businesses, which will benefit from better, more efficient mobility. Since rail is much more efficient than flying or driving, it will also help our energy security and our environment. A major study of transportation and climate change found that high-speed rail investments can help to save millions of tons of global warming pollution.
Fully building a national high speed rail system is something that will take time, stretching long beyond President Obama’s term of office. However, his vision extends beyond politics to the good of the country. The high-speed rail system that American begins building today will be a legacy ensuring that tomorrow, our country continues to have the best, most efficient transportation network in the world.