President Obama Says Yes to High-Speed Rail Plans

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  01.29.10 | 3:46 PM ET

It’s not often that a major Presidential speech makes ears perk up in the travel media—but President Obama happily got our attention this week when he talked high-speed rail during his State of the Union address Wednesday. Here’s part of what Obama said:

[F]rom the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains or the new factories that manufacture clean-energy products.

Then yesterday in Tampa he outlined where $8 billion in grants will go: A Tampa-Orlando-Miami route in Florida is first up, with projects in California, Illinois and elsewhere to follow. The Christian Science Monitor and NPR have more on the details.

And the response? Bruce Watson of Daily Finance is optimistic, pointing out that an improved rail network’s benefits go well beyond the employment created by the trains themselves. He writes:

For years, critics have argued that rail ticket sales don’t cover the cost of passenger service. However, the same could be said of America’s highway and airline infrastructure, both of which receive far more state and federal funding than Amtrak. The key point is that passenger rail’s profitability doesn’t accrue to the rail line—which will almost always operate at a deficit—but rather to the areas that it serves, where the influx of people will bring business opportunities, tourist dollars and other investment.

Time’s Bryan Walsh is more skeptical. He predicts that much of the money will likely be spent shoring up existing service rather than creating shiny new TGV-style lines, and adds, “America’s antiquated rail system will have to advance a long way just to make it to the present, let alone the future.”

Finally, Politico’s Josh Gerstein picks up on Obama’s recent quip about passengers keeping their shoes on when boarding passenger trains—and ponders why security is so different on trains and planes.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

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