Twice in the last year we’ve reported on the Obama Administration announcing investments in high-speed passenger train travel. But the $25 million allocated last August and even the $50 billion “roads, railways, and runways” transportation stimulus announced last September pale beside this week’s news.
Vice President Joe Biden, a staunch supporter—and user—of Amtrak, rode the rails from Washington to Philadelphia to declare a $53 billion six-year investment in a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network. The White House touted the efficiencies and environmental benefits of building what it termed “the equivalent of 1,900 miles of new highway, but with trains zipping along at up to 220 miles per hour in our most densely populated corridors.” The U.S. Department of Transportation also cites this project as a major jobs stimulus.
The Administration’s ultimate goal is to provide 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed rail lines. Currently Amtrak’s Acela train—which Biden rode yesterday along with DOT Secretary Raymond LaHood—serves 16 stations between Boston and Washington, and although it is capable of speeds up to 150 m.p.h. it often travels much slower in certain corridors.
Although organizations such as US PIRG and Smart Growth America praised the plan, there was immediate criticism from Republicans as well.
House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Railroads Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) issued a statement expressing “extreme reservations” about the project. “This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio,” said Mica.
—William J. McGee