shinkansen-gnu-fukuyama.jpgPresident Obama announced the dedication yesterday of $8 billion in federal stimulus investments to jump-start American high-speed rail and improve existing rail lines in 31 states. The big-ticket items include new high-speed rail programs in Florida — between Tampa and Orlando, and California — connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Florida will receive $1.25 billion for development of trains running up to 168 miles per hour, and California will get $2.25 billion to link Los Angeles to San Francisco with points in between via trains running up to 220 miles per hour.

The new lines will connect cities that are too close for efficient air travel but — with the highways connecting these cities nearly choked beyond capacity — too far for productive road travel,

    * High-speed rail travel offers competitive door-to-door trip times
    * It reduces congestion on key routes between cities
    * It reduces transportation emissions
    * It creates the “jobs of the future”

In California, the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco will be a 2-hour 40-minute comfortable ride from city center to city center, replacing a 6-hour trek of fighting traffic to get out of one downtown, just to be greeted by traffic to get into another.

In total, 31 states and the District of Columbia will receive awards for improvement in travel within 13 major corridors around the country, such as Chicago-Detroit.

Grants are also going to improvement projects and planning on existing routes and emerging corridors to lay the groundwork for future high-speed rail development, like between St. Louis and Chicago, which will receive $1.1 billion. There, the trains will get faster but still will not reach the speed of 150 m.p.h., the traditional threshold to be considered high-speed rail.

The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood estimates the $8 billion will create tens of thousands of jobs. What kind of jobs? Planning rail networks; designing, producing, and laying hundreds of miles of track; building, installing, maintaining, and operating equipment; constructing or upgrading stations, tunnels, and bridges; operating the routes.

“We can’t just put faster trains on old tracks and send them across bridges that need repairs. So, with these targeted investments, passengers will see many benefits in the near term.”

Environmentalists and transportation experts agree the investments are an important first step — and possibly the boldest move for American transportation since Eisenhower proposed the interstate highway system. Obama has pledged an additional $5 billion through the annual budget process.

(Read more in the Washington Post and the CS Monitor, “Which States Get the Money“)

Shinkansen GNU photo by Fukuyama

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