U.S. High Speed Rail Gets Big Pay Day

Whatever you call it – one guy’s investment is another guy’s reckless spending, after all – big new federal expenditures are a difficult proposition in Washington these days. But the Obama administration is nevertheless doubling down on its commitment to high-speed rail, announcing a plan to spend $53 billion over the next six years on a national network.

You’ll recall that the federal government under President Obama has already spent quite a bit on high-speed rail, including over $2 billion last year. While the money has been welcomed in some states – California, in particular, is enthusiastically pursuing a line connecting the Bay Area with the Los Angeles region – new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin have spurned funding for projects in their states.

Amtrak Acelo Express at New Haven Union

image via Wikimedia Commons

Against that backdrop, the White House is marching forward, beginning with asking for $8 billion in the coming fiscal year to develop or improve what it identified as three types of corridors: core express, the “backbone” of the larger system with trains running from 125-250 mph; regional, aimed at reducing travel times now with 90-125 mph trains with the flexibility to go faster farther in the future; and emerging, a category that would give more travelers access to the larger high-speed network on trains traveling up to 90 mph.

Ultimately, the administration has said, its goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

Vice President Joe Biden, famous for riding the train from Delaware to D.C. and back during his days as a U.S. senator, went out to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to announce the rail plan. The White House noted that with track improvements between Harrisburg and Philadelphia having boosted top speeds to 110 mph, ridership on the corridor is up 57 percent since 2006.

“As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced,” the Vice President said. “This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans.”

Biden’s emphasis on jobs was echoed by U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff in Raleigh, N.C., where they toured the new Capital Area Transit operations and bus maintenance center. “Our investment in projects like this,” Rogoff said, “puts skilled workers on the payroll today accommodating transit growth for years to come.”


Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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