"Amtrak Joe" Biden Reveals High-Speed Rail Plans "Amtrak Joe" Biden Reveals High-Speed Rail Plans

"Amtrak Joe" Biden Reveals High-Speed Rail Plans

by Ben Jervey

February 11, 2011

Yesterday, "Amtrak Joe" Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took to Philadelphia's historic 30th Street Station to reveal the administration's new, refined plans for America's high-speed rail. In short, President Obama is calling for a $53 billion investment over the next six years—including $8 billion next year—with the ultimate goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years. (This comes on top of the $10.5 billion already devoted to HSR—$8 billion of Recovery Act funds and $2.5 billion from the 2010 budget.) 

We've long pined for the rapid build-out of a HSR network, and this announcement is a good sign that the administration isn't backing off some bold earlier claims. Even more encouraging is this language from the White House press release that followed Biden's announcement (emphasis mine):

The proposal will place high-speed rail on equal footing with other surface transportation programs and revitalize America’s domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

Biden's speech was also smart to include the economic advantages of rail:

“When you talk about the investments we’re making in rail, they pale in comparison to investment you’d have to make in runways or highways. And that’s before you factor in the environmental benefit of taking cars off the road.”

The core structural elements of the plan from the press release:

  • Core Express: These corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher.
  • Regional: Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service.
  • Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

The six-year plan mirrors the length of the proposed transportation budget authorization, so in theory this could all get approved in one fell swoop. But don't expect it to be so simple. Congressional Republicans, who will have to approve the funding, have all but guaranteed any new spending proposals to run into a brick wall. (And trains have recently, perplexingly, been a prime target of conservative vitriol.) But if the administration keeps up with the smart, pointed messaging, popular support could overwhelm partisan ideology.

Not to further dampen your American rail pride, but Talking Points Memo has a great slide show of awesome, superfast, ultra-efficient HSR systems already in place throughout Europe and Asia. Flip through it and weep.

Also, The Onion: Obama Replaces Costly High Speed Rail Plan With High Speed Bus Plan.

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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"Amtrak Joe" Biden Reveals High-Speed Rail Plans