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Biden Announces $53 Billion Intercity Rail Plan

Biden Announces $53 Billion Intercity Rail Plan

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden announced a $53 billion plan to upgrade and build intercity passenger-rail networks. According to the Wall Street Journal, the six-year-program would provide 80% of Americans with access to passenger-rail service in 25 years. Critics contend that such a program is misguided, and that the only area where the Obama Administration should focus such efforts is the Northeast Corridor, the most congested in the nation.

Biden—himself a long-time commuter between his home state of Delaware and Washington, DC, on Amtrak trains— introduced the plan at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. $8 billion will be provided for passenger-rail projects in this year’s budget, which is to be unveiled next week. According to Bloomburg, there would be three categories of interconnected rail corridors:

 

Such corridors would be divided into three categories: “core express” for trains achieving speeds of between 125 and 250 miles per hour or more; “regional” lines for trains traveling between 90 to 125 miles per hour and “emerging” rail lines for passenger trains traveling as much as 90 miles per hour.

 

The federal government has already devoted $10.5 million to develop high-speed rail projects in California and Florida.  

Republicans have already called for nixing plans for rail projects as part of their call to reduce the federal deficit. From the  Wall Street Journal:

 

Rep. John L. Mica (R., Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Rep. Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Railroads Subcommittee, criticized the rail plan.

“Government won’t develop American high-speed rail. Private investment and a competitive market will,” Mr. Shuster said in a statement. Mr. Mica said the administration should focus its efforts on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested area for railway travel, rather than on other “marginal projects.”

New Republican governors of Ohio and Wisconsin recently returned federal funds for rail projects because of cost concerns. Florida’s new Republican governor has said he is reviewing whether plans for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando are viable.

 

NPR cites the President’s State of the Union Address in which

Obama set out of a goal of providing access to high-speed rail to 80 percent of Americans in 25 years. The Los Angeles Times reports the plan will face opposition from groups that believe the money should go to “what most people use — the existing road and bridge network.”

NPR provides some historical background via the Infrastructurist blog, which notes ‘some similarities between this plan and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vision for a national expressway system, which he introduced in 1938 and wasn’t funded until 1956.’

Reps. Mica’s and Shuster’s comments are unfortunate and even short-sighted. I live in the Northeast and take the trains twice a week from our house in north-central New Jersey to my job in Jersey City, which is directly across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan. I recently decided that it would be best for me to take the train more, rather than driving. One can get work and reading done on the train and I enjoy the communal experience of sharing a train car with other passengers. We certainly appreciate being able not to use our car so much, especially as gas prices rise.

With all this said, it’s not exactly a picnic to take the train, subway, etc.. The trains are crowded—there is often no place to sit at commute time—and, more and more, there have been delays in the form of equipment breakdowns, problems with the switches and such. But if we actually devoted sufficient funds to rail transit, these could be addressed, and perhaps even more trains on more routes devised. Further, trains make travel more accessible for those who are not able to drive or afford a car, including senior citizens and individuals with disabilities like my son. 

A national rail system that actually (unlike Amtrak, sigh) gets you where you need to in a timely fashion is needed in our country. Yes, it would mean that Americans need to give up or at least let go of their romance with the car, sit beside a (gasp) stranger, and have to wait on a train platform to get home. Certainly, most people currently use the ‘existing road and bridge network,’ because it’s there and they have no options. But what if they had the choice between sitting on the interstate in commute traffic versus riding the rails?

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57 comments

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11:13AM PST on Nov 19, 2011

YOU ROCK JOE!

9:29AM PST on Nov 15, 2011

USA doesn't even have a decent bus system. Taxing pollution to help drive some off the roads might help. So would infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycle riders,so pedestrians and bike riders could feel safe.

11:22PM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

I think accessible rail is a great idea. More public transit, in general, everywhere should be top priority! Where I live, there isn't public transit. I wish there were, because I would most definitely use it. If I had more options, I would use them. With my current financial nightmare, the tiniest thing to go wrong with my car, and I'm bankrupt, on the street. That's tremendous pressure, I feel there should be more options, not only for the disabled, and the poor, but for people that would just rather ride public transit rather than drive.

6:42AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

Walter - "Way to go, Joe, but BTW, what will it use for money?"
- Republicans!

And yes, I can definitely imagine the amount of potential for abuse here.

And the reason why this is not a good idea- this is unchartered territory & they know it. This means, they know they'll be able to ask for more funds. Hey, if they are 5yrs in & are already approaching their $53bil budget, they can say "well, due to inflation & the poor economy caused by (whomever was the last president, obviously), we now need to aquire more funding for this incredibly worthwhile endeavor!" -read, a bunch of politicians got rich, & want even more money. So, they ask for another $30bil or so & a few years later, they can ask for even more. And, thay CAN'T be refused!!! If the country's already in for $53bil, what are they going to do, just stop?

No, better to save some of that (other people's money that is not even our's to spend) & put some effort into fixing the systems we already have in place, making them safer & more efficient, for now.

The national debt is real people! Ignoring it wont just make it go away...

6:20AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

Walter G. - republicans!

5:46AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

Ann W, about the chosen power is simple, Biden has enough hot air stored up to power several railroads. It is not a matter of where he'll get it, it is a matter of where it will come out of.

5:44AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

Can you imagine the fraud, corruption and graft this will unleash?

5:42AM PST on Feb 14, 2011

Way to go, Joe, but BTW, what will it use for money?

7:51AM PST on Feb 12, 2011

First off, many Wisconsin citizens are dismayed that Scott Walker sent the rail money back. Some of us wish we didn't have a new governor so stupid he can't see it was tantamount to someone being given a new car, but bitching, moaning, and refusing to accept, since you'd then have to buy gas for it. Of course his Lt. governor is the one who thinks that gay marriage will lead to people marrying furniture, so....

Sadly, some manufacturing businesses are now leaving WI with all their jobs as a result of this, and the people who could have worked at stations, and as attendants, conductors, and engineers on board are not going to get those jobs, either.

As far as not wanting to spend money on a mode of transport that uses far less oil than cars and planes (WHY are the GOP against THAT? They are in bed with the oil producers!) lets put that in perspective:

spent/approved to be spent on Iraq war - $900 billion in tax money as of November 2010.

mismanaged/wasted in Iraq - $10 billion (Feb 2007 Congressional hearings)

Halliburton overcharges classified by the Pentagon as unreasonable and unsupported - $1.4 billion

U.S. 2009 MONTHLY spending in Iraq - $7.3 billion

Somehow 8 billion this year and 53 billion over 25 years for rail doesn't sound so bad, especially when it will not only create jobs, but reduce fuel and car maintenance costs for many Americans. If you don't get why it's a good idea, plan your next vacation in Japan, China or Europe.

12:36PM PST on Feb 11, 2011

Yes, yes, yes, great idea it will put America back to work and this will help the economy, also it will bring us into the world of competition, move ahead again for our country, 8 years of sitting still and letting other countries move ahead of us is ending.

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