Obama: All aboard high-speed rail

Proving he is serious about (finally) developing high-speed rail in the United States, President Obama Thursday released his Vision for High-Speed Rail in America .

The administration suggests repeating the development patterns of the U.S. aviation and highway systems: a public-private partnership led by a strong federal, national vision. The plan calls for investing in “intercity rail infrastructure, equipment and intermodal connections” and explicitly notes high-speed rail’s environmental benefits and ability to strengthen good urbanism, including strong connections to local transit systems:

Rail transport has generally been associated with “smart growth” because it can foster higher-density development than has typically been associated with highways and airports. Rail is uniquely capable of providing both high-speed intercity transportation and its own efficient local access and egress system. For example, in the Boston region, Amtrak’s Acela serves two downtown stations connected to public transit – South Station and Back Bay – as well as a suburban station at Route 128. Yet just a few miles down the line to the west, Acela achieves speeds up to 130 miles per hour, and then 150 miles per hour.

There is much to like, if not love, about the Vision: development of and investment in high-speed rail corridors between cities between 100 miles to 600 miles apart, and a focus on projects that are ready, or almost ready to go, that can break ground before 2010 – a date that is surely no coincidence, but one that can help build public and political support and will for high-speed rail by giving people a taste of what could be.

Financing comes from the $8 billion already in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $1 billion in annual grants over five years, starting with the President’s proposed 2009-10 budget.

But passengers who arrive on a high-speed train must have easy access to the cities they visit. There must be equally strong federal support for public transit, and land use decisions that concentrate growth near high-speed rail stations.

This announcement and plan strongly suggest, however, that this administration “gets it” and will act accordingly.

Acela photo by John Acurso, courtesy of Amtrak


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