President Obama announced the awards during a town hall meeting in
Tampa, Fla. -- a follow-up to Wednesday's State of the Union address
that focused on getting Americans back to work. Thirteen passenger
rail corridors in 31 states will receive grants, which are funded by
the economic recovery act enacted last year.
Obama said focusing
on building 21st-century infrastructure projects is an important
element of the country's economic recovery.
"It creates jobs immediately and it lays the foundation for a
vibrant economy in the future," Obama said.
Though the administration bills the program as "high-speed rail,"
most U.S. projects won't reach the speeds seen in Europe and Asia.
California's trains would be by far the fastest, exceeding the 200
mph achieved by some trains overseas.
Some of the money will go toward trains with top speeds of 110
mph, while other funds -- such as the $400 million allotted to Ohio
to connect Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati -- will be for
trains traveling no faster than 79 mph.
A half-dozen Cabinet members and other senior administration
officials were fanning out across the country for rail events
Thursday and Friday. The White House said rail projects will create
or save thousands of jobs in areas including track laying,
manufacturing, planning, engineering, and rail maintenance and
Obama told the crowd at Thursday's town hall that when the
high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando is finished, "I'm
going to come back down here and ride it."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and members of Congress have
acknowledged they expect much of the expertise and equipment to be
supplied by foreign companies. Except for Amtrak's Acela line
between Boston and Washington, there are no high-speed trains in the
U.S. and no domestic high-speed rail industry.
The $8 billion investment is just a start. Last year, Obama asked
Congress in his budget request for an additional $1 billion a year
for five years. For this year Congress approved another $2.5 billion
that remains to be awarded. And Obama is expected to ask for yet
more rail funds when his budget is presented next week.
Also, LaHood has hinted that some of the $1.5 billion allotted in
the stimulus plan for discretionary transportation projects may go
toward high-speed rail.
Japan launched the first high-speed trains in 1964, and France
and other European countries followed in the 1980s and 1990s. China
has announced plans to expand its high-speed rail system to a
network of more than 16,000 miles by the year 2020 at an estimated
cost of $300 billion.
In the U.S., only the projects in California and Florida are
planned to reach maximum speeds of 150 mph or more -- what most
transportation experts consider high-speed rail.
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Projects awarded the largest grants:
billion to begin work on an 800-mile-long, high-speed rail line
tying Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles
and San Diego.
billion to build a rail line connecting Tampa on the west coast
with Orlando in the middle of the state, eventually going south
$1.1 billion to improve a rail line between Chicago and St.
Louis so that trains travel up to 110 mph.
million to upgrade and refurbish train stations and install
safety equipment on the Madison-to-Milwaukee leg of a line that
stretches from Minneapolis to Chicago.
$590 million to upgrade a rail line from Seattle to Portland,
North Carolina: $520 million for
projects that will increase top speeds to 90 mph on trains
between Raleigh and Charlotte and double the number of round
By spreading the $8 billion among so many states, Obama is
ignoring the advice of transportation experts and high-speed rail
advocates who said the best way to build continuing political
support for the program would be to concentrate on two or three
grants large enough to get a high-speed line up and running. Once
that happens, they reasoned, other parts of the country would lobby
for more money to build their own lines.
Rep. John Mica of Florida, the senior Republican on the House
transportation committee, complained that the Midwest lines awarded
grants will achieve top speeds of only 110 mph and were "selected
more for political reasons than for high-speed service."
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