Two of the Obama administration’s highest-level policy salesmen urged governors to push forward “bold” plans to develop high-speed passenger rail systems, and in the process unclog congested highways and air service.
“We’re going to start building a high-speed rail system that will loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways,” Vice President Joseph Biden told a White House meeting with eight governors and transportation officials from 15 other states. President Obama is on a trip to the Middle East.
The Recovery Act includes $8 billion in HSR stimulus funds to be allocated, and the Obama budget plans to include $1 billion more in federal spending each year for five years. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said “President Obama has handed us an extraordinary opportunity – and now it is up to all of us to seize the moment.”
The meeting focused on high-speed rail service to move people more efficiently between cities and regions. Industry officials say some of that money will go to upgrade existing tracks owned by freight carriers but used as well by regular Amtrak passenger trains or may be improved to help states establish new Amtrak service.
The administration said the governors attending the meeting were from Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. State transportation officials also came from California, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
Boosters of high-speed rail say such plans for more passenger trains, to boost speeds on some existing lines and also launch some true high-speed rail routes, can ease the pressure on busy highways that in many regions are at or above planned capacity. And they say train service moves people long distances with lower greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles or airplanes.
“High-speed rail has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on oil, lower harmful carbon emissions, foster new economic development and give travelers more choices when it comes to moving around the country,” the White House said.
Some freight officials warn that if passenger train service gets priority over freight it could end up raising the cost of moving cargoes, while others say it could ease costs by pouring public funds into such rail needs as improved signaling and track maintenance.
And freight rail officials have also said the passenger rail push should help carriers obtain funding for big-ticket centralized control systems known as positive train control. These systems include anti-collision electronics and allow for remote intervention to take over train operations from onboard crews if distant dispatchers see an imminent crash hazard.
Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.