Attempting to make headway on Obama's State of the Union goal to have 80 percent of Americans within reach of high-speed rail in 25 years, Vice President Biden announced Tuesday a plan to invest $53 billion dollars to create a high speed rail network over the next six years. The plan would include building new tracks as well as taking the kinks out of existing ones.
Right now the goal is to start small: the administration is proposing to put $8 billion towards high speed rail in the upcoming budget with plans to distribute the remaining $45 billion between 2013 through 2018.
The money would go towards local services that would run between 90 and 125 mph and express service that would hit between 125 and 250 mph. Considering that Amtrak's high-speed Acela service, which boasts speeds of 150 miles per hour but trundles along at speeds of 60 to 80 miles per hour between Boston and Washington, the administration's plan has some perception issues to overcome. There's also the daunting figure Technorati dug up when sifting through transportation costs. According to the site's John Reinhardt, it cost the government $58 billion to maintain US highways in 2009. Their question: since $58 billion a year covers maintaining roads we've already got, is $53 billion enough to build a high speed rail system?
Congress and critics also have questions, mainly this one: just how stupid is this proposal?
According the Christian Science Monitor, House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica says the plan is guaranteed to fall in line with other losing attempts that succeeded only in creating "snail speed trains to nowhere." Mica is also wary of Amtrak, which is says runs a "Soviet-style train system" will be put in charge. Meanwhile Railroads Subcommittee Chair Bill Shuster says "rail projects that are not economically sound."
Ken Button, the director of the Center for Transportation Policy at George Mason University, seems to agree, suggesting that high-speed rail ilsn't the smartest move if the Administration thinks it's going to break even. He told the Christian Science Monitor that there are exactly two high speed rail systems that aren't bleeding money: France's Paris to Lyon line and Japan's Tokyo to Osaka line
Zoning and Land Concerns
"The bigger part of the question is purchasing the land, getting right of ways, zoning issues, environmental impact assessments, laying dedicated tracks in a reasonable amount of time," Leslie McCarthy, a high-speed rail expert at Villanova University's College of Engineering, told the Christian Science Monitor. Plus, Leslie says it could take 12 to 20 years just to clear these hurdles--that means high-speed rail by 2036, perhaps. CNN says the plan to implement high speed rail includes an expedited application process to help cities and states tap into grants and loans to build the the rails. Just how much that could trim the scenario McCarthy described to the Christian Science Monitor is unclear.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.