Thursday, April 16th, 2009 at 12:20 pm
A Vision for High Speed Rail
"I'm happy to be here. I’m more happy than you can imagine," said the Vice President, a noted rail enthusiast, before introducing the President for the release of his strategic plan for high speed rail in America. Revolving around the $8 billion in the Recovery Act and the $1 billion per year for five years requested in the President’s budget to get these projects off the ground, the President painted the picture that will become a reality as a result of these investments:
What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) 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. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.
Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here.
In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here.
There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.
The inclusion of high speed rail in the Recovery Act was one of many symbols of the new vision for America and its economy that guided the plan. As the Vice President explained in his introduction, joined by Transportation Secretary LaHood, in addition to putting Americans to work across the country it went towards several the Recovery Act’s key goals:
And we're making a down payment today, a down payment on the economy for tomorrow, the economy that's going to drive us in the 21st century in a way that the other -- the highway system drove us in the mid-20th century. And I'm happy to be here. I'm more happy than you can imagine -- (laughter) -- to talk about a commitment that, with the President's leadership, we're making to achieve the goal through the development of high-speed rail projects that will extend eventually all across this nation. And most of you know that not only means an awful lot to me, but I know a lot of you personally in this audience over the years, I know it means equally as much to you.
With high-speed rail system, we're going to be able to pull people off the road, lowering our dependence on foreign oil, lowering the bill for our gas in our gas tanks. We're going to loosen the congestion that also has great impact on productivity, I might add, the people sitting at stop lights right now in overcrowded streets and cities. We're also going to deal with the suffocation that's taking place in our major metropolitan areas as a consequence of that congestion. And we're going to significantly lessen the damage to our planet. This is a giant environmental down payment.
The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding. Those lines are: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service: