Tickets to Ride: Obama, Biden on Track with High-Speed Rail Projects

As train-lovin’ infrastructure freaks, we applaud Friday’s announcement by President Obama and Vice President “Amtrak Joe” Biden that the administration will dedicate $8 billion of stimulus funding for high-speed rail projects in 13 major rail corridors in 31 states around the U.S. The president calls this investment a down payment on the most significant step forward in the nation’s transportation system since the interstate highway system was launched in the 1950s. The OneRail coalition cheers the news: “Investment in rail will create jobs not only in those corridors, but  around the nation as American companies develop, build, and operate systems that will reduce energy consumption, mitigate air pollution, enhance the reliability of passenger and freight rail, and create more livable communities.”

We see the investment as a most welcome advance that will help reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels (a point repeated by Transportation secretary Ray LaHood) and on automobiles. The train projects are energy-efficient and reinforce U.S. national security. (The less foreign oil we use, the fewer soldiers we have to send overseas to oil-rich zones.) As we’ve noted before, “the U.S. must reduce its dependence on automobiles and on importing foreign oil (and extracting it from off the Gulf Coast). Carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels.”

Transportation writer Elana Schor reports at DC.Streetsblog that California will receive $2.25 as a down payment on its high-speed line between L.A. and San Francisco; Florida gets $1.25 billion for its Tampa-to-Orlando line, while Illinois will receive a comparable amount for high-speed rail service between Chicago and St. Louis. (More specific numbers can be found here; see below for what Louisiana didn’t get—didn’t even try for.) Schor’s fine report also quotes some of the carping that can be expected from Republican members of Congress and Florida Republicans, which we won’t go into here. And Matthew Yglesias at ThinkProgress describes House Minority Leader John Boehner’s attacks on a mythical L.A.–Las Vegas line while ignoring two different lines that will benefit his state of Ohio. Here is a map of the 13 major rail corridors that will receive portions of the $8 billion:

The Obama administration is dispatching cabinet officials across the country to highlight how the stimulus (Recovery Act) programs are saving and creating new jobs and is delivering specific benefits to states and communities nationwide. reports that data show that Recovery Act funds spent on public transportation were twice as effective in generating new jobs as highway projects. Every $1 billion spent on public transportation produced 16,419 job-months, whereas every billion spent on highway infrastructure produced 8,781 job-months. In addition, Devilstower, a reader at DailyKos writes, “Public transportation helps preserve urban areas and raise property values along their travel corridors. It brings much less pollution than individual vehicles and saves riders over $9000 a year.” Well, then, let’s have some more of that.

We urge our readers to call or write to members of Congress to press for increased spending on infrastructure projects—especially on levees and on popular public transportation systems to give commuters alternatives to driving automobiles. People love these projects, and for politicians they’re good vote-getters. As we wrote last year when the stimulus was being debated in Congress and public transit funds were being whittled away to make room for tax cuts:

Why is this important? Levees Not War is a strong advocate for public transit not only because trains are cool but because the U.S. must reduce its dependence on automobiles and on importing foreign oil (and extracting it from off the Gulf Coast). Carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels. That, along with the 10,000 miles of oil industry pipelines through the Louisiana wetlands, hurts New Orleans, Louisiana, and other precious places. More broadly, investment in public transportation and other infrastructure also gives more “bang for the buck” in creating jobs and providing public works of lasting value that help support the economy in a sustainable way (as in helping people get to work—provided there are jobs to get to).

Louisiana Could Have Applied for Funding, Too . . . But No.

We express particular regret and irritation that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has both criticized the Recovery Act (stimulus) and appeared in photo ops of himself handing checks to Louisiana public officials of funds provided by the stimulus, opted not to even apply for federal funds that might have helped build a high-speed rail line between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The idea had been supported by Greater New Orleans Inc. president Michael Hecht and Baton Rouge Area Chamber president Adam Knapp, among several dozen other civic leaders who were invited by Louisiana DOT secretary William Anker to discuss the potential project. (Nationally televised mockery by Keith Olbermann may have pushed Jindal over the edge. Thanks, Keith, even if you meant well.) Think of how useful a rail line could be in accelerating evacuations from an oncoming hurricane, and lessening the automobile traffic on interstates 10, 55, Airline Highway, etc. (As we’ve said before, considering what it takes to succeed in today’s GOP, a Republican governor with presidential ambitions is a curse that we would not wish on any state.)

Here is what Louisiana could have at least tried for: An Amtrak Acela at high speed:

Click here for a PDF of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Vision for High-Speed Rail in America,” issued shortly after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) in early 2009.

Check out these alternative transportation blogs and organizations:

The Infrastructurist

OneRail Coalition/Surface Transportation Policy Partnership

Free Public Transit

Smart Growth America

And, just for fun, Subway Map Porn for the Mass Transit Freak (slideshow)

We urge readers to push the departments and congressional committees to keep up the good work, and do more for alternative transportation:

U.S. Department of Transportation (Ray LaHood, Secretary)

Federal Transit Administration

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Further reading for public transit junkies and freaks:

On the Social Desirability of Urban Rail Transit Systems

Great Achievements in American Socialism (FDR-Style)

Main Street Recovery Program (Institute for America’s Future)

Smart Growth America: What We Learned from the Stimulus

ProPublica: Detailed List of Stimulus Spending


And don’t forget National Train Day, coming on May 8, 2010.





Tickets to Ride: Obama, Biden on Track with High-Speed Rail Projects