Obama wants to get moving on high-speed rail

President Obama touted his plan for developing high-speed railways Thursday, detailing how $13 billion in federal money would act as a “down payment” on creating speedier passenger train service.

“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,” Obama said. “There’s no reason why we can’t do this.”

The proposal lists the long-planned rail corridor from Los Angeles to San Francisco as one that could receive funding, as well as a network featuring Chicago as the hub of a system reaching to Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

“The Midwest has some good planning going on,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “If you look at the Chicagoland area, the Metra system delivers thousands of people into the city every day, and obviously it’s conceivable that those people could get on a high-speed rail line and go somewhere.”


Also possible are high-speed rail lines in Florida, Texas and the Pacific Northwest, as well as an expansion of the nation’s only existing high-speed rail system, which runs from Washington to Boston.

The plan is no surprise, with $8 billion coming from January’s economic stimulus package and $5 billion potentially coming from Obama’s budget over the next five years.

The administration has not announced the criteria on which it will award funding, but it aims to release money by the end of the summer.

Vukan Vuchic, a University of Pennsylvania professor of transportation engineering, agreed with Obama that federal support for high-speed rail was long overdue.


“We are, frankly, several decades behind if we compare ourselves with our peer countries,” Vuchic said. “The country badly needs high-speed rail in all these regions.”

At the same time, the administration plan drew some skepticism.

Creating the corridors would require massive subsidies from federal and state governments for a service that few people would use, said James Moore, professor of industrial and systems engineering at the USC.

“There’s just not a lot of room for high-speed rail to compete in the U.S. market,” he said.

California officials who hope to build a rail line that would whisk passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes welcomed Obama’s enthusiasm for high-speed rail.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that California was “far ahead of any other high-speed rail system in the nation” and cited voter approval of nearly $10 billion of bonds for the project.

California’s proposed project would initially run between Anaheim and San Francisco at a cost of $34 billion, taking 10 years to build, and would eventually go to Sacramento and San Diego.

Although a long-discussed high-speed rail line from Las Vegas to Anaheim was not included on a White House map of those likely to receive funding, supporters said they would seek a share of the federal money to advance the project.