US President Barack Obama pressed on Thursday for the US to move swiftly to a system of high-speed rail travel to relieve congestion, help clean the air and save on energy.
Appearing with US Vice President Joe Biden and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Obama said the country could not afford failure to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. He said he understood it necessarily would be “a long-term project” but said the time to start was now.
The president allocated US$8 billion in the enormous US$787 billion economic stimulus spending package for a start on establishing high-speed rail corridors nationwide.
“This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It’s happening now. The problem is, it’s happening elsewhere,” Obama said.
He cited superior high-speed rail travel in countries including China, Japan, France and Spain.
The rail upgrades are critically needed, Obama said, because the nation’s highways and airways “are clogged with traffic.”
The money will go to high-speed rail development as well as a parallel effort to improve rail service along existing lines, upgrades that would allow faster train travel.
The White House said money would move into the rail system through three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved and only in need of financing, thus providing jobs in the short term. The second and third channels would focus on high-speed rail planning and a commitment to help in the execution of those plans far into the future when the stimulus money is no longer available.
The US Federal Railroad Administration said the term “high-speed rail” applied to trains traveling more than 145kph. The EU standard is above 200kph.
Many overseas high-speed trains, most powered by overhead electricity lines, run faster than that. In France, for example, the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse) covers the 400km between Paris and Lyon in one hour, 55 minutes at an average speed of about 210kph.