Obama: Rail Plan 'Overdue'

April 17, 2009|By Ben Meyerson and Richard Simon | Ben Meyerson and Richard Simon,Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -President Barack Obama promoted his plan for developing high-speed railways in America on Thursday, detailing how $13 billion in federal money would act as a "down payment" on creating speedier passenger train service.

"High-speed rail is long overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways," Obama said. "There's no reason why we can't do this."

The plan lists the long-planned rail corridor from Los Angeles to San Francisco as one that could receive funding, as well as a planned network featuring Chicago as the hub of a system reaching to Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

"The Midwest has some good planning going on," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "If you look at the Chicagoland area, the Metra system delivers thousands of people into the city every day, and obviously it's conceivable that those people could get on a high-speed rail line and go somewhere."

Also possible are new high-speed rail lines in Florida, Texas and the Pacific Northwest, as well as an expansion of the nation's only existing high-speed rail system, which runs from Washington to Boston.

Environmentalists in the Mid-Atlantic praised the initiative and said it would provide sorely needed alternatives to the growing traffic congestion.

"[Higher-speed rail] would reduce energy consumption and fight climate change for a region which has one of the coastal environments most at risk from sea level rise," said Roger Deidrich of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The plan is no surprise, as $8 billion for it comes from January's stimulus package, with $5 billion during the next five years potentially coming from Obama's proposed budget.

The administration has not announced the criteria on which it will award funding, but it aims to release money by the end of the summer.

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