High-Speed Rail Plan Spells New Era for US Transit

As part of a plan to create tens of thousands of new jobs, President Barack Obama called Tuesday for substantial new investments in high-speed rail projects across the country. Obama has proposed spending $53 billion over the next six years on a high-speed rail network that would help bring the US transportation network in line with Europe, Japan, and other parts of the world where rail has become a clean and efficient way of getting around. To get the first part of this long-term project moving, Obama is expected to propose a budget to Congress on Monday that includes $8 billion for high-speed rail.

Under the Obama administration’s leadership the federal government has already awarded $10 billion to high-speed rail proposals, including high-profile projects in California and Florida. If funding is made available for future projects, rail lines will eventually be able to transport passengers around the country at speeds of up to 250 miles without many of the security and privacy risks implicit in travelling by airplane.

Many cities in the US already use some form of street car, light rail, or subway system to provide alternative transportation to residents—and new rail projects are being proposed in major cities all over the nation. However an efficient high-speed rail network would take alternative transportation in this country to a new level, finally binding distant parts of the US together in a safe and easily accessible manner. With gasoline prices on the rise, and likely to continue climbing over the long term in future, providing alternatives to car and plane-based travel makes more sense than ever.

Building a high-speed rail network is also a crucial part of breaking US dependence on oil and reducing the likelihood of environmental disasters like last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently our inefficient gasoline-based transportation system accounts for fully 70% of US oil consumption. When combined with large-scale deployment of electric cars and further improvements in public transit at a local level, high-speed could shift the United States toward a cleaner transportation system and forever do away with the chain tying our economy to ups and downs in oil prices.

In a now-famous statement during last month’s State of the Union address, President Obama set a goal of providing 80% of US residents access to high-speed rail by the year 2035. Considering this technology is only just starting to get off the ground in this country, we still have a long way to go to attain that goal. However Tuesday’s announcement is a sign the Obama administration is willing to follow bold rhetoric with a concrete plan that will create jobs and reduce pollution. A new era in transportation just came a little closer to reality.

Photo credit: Jon Curnow