I hate flying. I don’t mean I’m afraid of flying, like many who say they hate flying. (I’m about as afraid of flying as I am of riding on a bus—which is to say, not very much at all.) No, it isn’t fear that ties my stomach in knots: it’s the recycled, pressurized air; the invasive, humiliating, and slow-as-molasses security checks; the waiting on a runway in a cramped jet packed to the gills with sweaty, cranky travelers when every cell of my body is screaming “Get out RIGHT NOW.” Ugh.
But what’s the alternative? High-speed rail?
There’s not a single high-speed train running in the US today. Let me repeat that. There’s not a single high-speed train running in the US today. Sure, there’s the Acela Express. But, due to rail traffic and track conditions, it never hits speeds over half its 150 MPH potential. And in my view, if a train does not travel high speeds, it is not a high-speed train. To put it another way, if you slapped a flux capacitor on the Acela Express, you would never reach 1955—no matter how much plutonium you had.
Thankfully, by allocating billions of stimulus dollars to creating or updating our nation’s high-speed rail system, President Obama is trying to change all that.
WASHINGTON — President Obama on Thursday highlighted his ambition for the development of high-speed passenger rail lines in at least 10 regions, expressing confidence in the future of train travel even as he acknowledged that the American rail network, compared with the rest of the world’s, remains a caboose.
With clogged highways and overburdened airports, economic growth is suffering, Mr. Obama said at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, shortly before leaving for a trip to Mexico and then Trinidad and Tobago.
“What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”
And he added, “There’s no reason why we can’t do this.”
Mr. Obama said the $8 billion for high-speed rail in his stimulus package — to be spent over two years — and an additional $1 billion a year being budgeted over the next five years, would provide a “jump start” toward achieving that vision.
The stimulus money has yet to be allocated to specific projects, but Mr. Obama said the Transportation Department would begin awarding money by the end of summer.
The government has identified 10 corridors, each from 100 to 600 miles long, with greatest promise for high-speed development.
They are: a northern New England line; an Empire line running east to west in New York State; a Keystone corridor running laterally through Pennsylvania; a major Chicago hub network; a southeast network connecting the District of Columbia to Florida and the Gulf Coast; a Gulf Coast line extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama; a corridor in central and southern Florida; a Texas-to-Oklahoma line; a California corridor where voters have already approved a line that will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours; and a corridor in the Pacific Northwest.