After a recent trip to California, I was reminded what it is like to have a mass transit infrastructure that can take you just about anywhere you want to go. Unfortunately, the U.S. rail infrastructure has withered significantly since its zenith in the early twentieth century, and unlike many of its European and Asian counterparts, it has almost zero high-speed rail service, excluding the Acela Express between Boston and Washington, D.C.
But things might be changing on the rail front, partly because of the machinations of an Obama administration steeped in the loco-centric history of the biggest rail hub in the country - Chicago.
When members of Congress sat down to hammer out the final details on the economic stimulus package, President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel greatly upped the ante for high-speed rail, asking House-Senate negotiators for $10 billion — far more than either bill had allotted. “I put it in there for the president,” Emanuel said. “The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future."
“High-speed rail is the infrastructure bank,” said Emanuel, and the legislation gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood discretion to assign “priority to projects that support the development of intercity high-speed rail service.” But parsing those projects out will be no easy task.
Several promising rail corridors are hoping they are recipients of some of that $10 billion, including a high-speed rail project in California connecting San Francisco to Los Angeles.
However, building a high-speed rail infrastructure is much more expensive at this stage in the game than it would have been decades ago, had we been keeping up with the Casey Jones'. And while $10 billion sounds like a lot, the cost of just one of the proposed high-speed rail lines, the 460-mile line connecting New York City, Albany and Buffalo, is estimated at $20 billion to $25 billion.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has 60 days to come up with a strategic plan for the funds.
[Originally published at Red, Green, and Blue]