In his State of the Union speech last night, President Obama reiterated a familiar campaign refrain: public works projects such as high-speed trains are one of the best ways to create jobs and boost the economy.
"We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow," Obama said. "From 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. "
To make his dream of a cutting-edge American rail system a reality, the White House pledged $8 billion
in federal stimulus funds to connect 13 major transit corridors throughout the country. Take a look:
Good luck hopping a high-speed train to Wyoming.
As Chad posted earlier today
, the St. Louis-Chicago connection is slated to get $1.1 billion worth of that money.
It sounds like a great idea but inquiring minds want to know: How long would the journey from the Big Muddy to the Windy City take once the tracks are laid?
According to the Associated Press
, the trip would take "less than four hours" on a high-speed train.
Looking at Amtrak timetables
, the train trip currently takes about five hours and 40 minutes (the ticket costs anywhere from $32 to $65 depending on the time of day). Driving takes about five hours (depending on how heavy your foot is on the gas).
Is an extra hour or so really worth all that spending? That depends.
Since the new trains are supposed to travel at speeds up to 110 mph, the 300-mile voyage could conceivably be cut to around three and a half hours. And, as anyone who's ever taken a high-speed train in Europe or Asia can attest, the experience is truly amazing and, more importantly, convenient. (Spain's AVE
, which connects Sevilla to Madrid to Barcelona saved this blogger a huge hassle once upon a time.)
Plus there's the jobs/economy factor and the fact that the groundwork for a high-speed Midwest passenger train has already been laid.
Reports the AP (via HuffPo
Robert Turner, a senior vice president for Union Pacific, said freight and passenger rail have coexisted unevenly, and that the challenge would be to integrate them. Before rail travel began declining in the 1960s, the Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor had separate tracks for passenger trains and freight. It was later reduced to a single track but the bed of the other track is still intact.
Still, skeptics point out that the trickle-down effects of building the rail system are far from a sure thing. No American companies engineer or design the systems so the technology would have to be imported. Others doubt whether $8 billion is enough to cover the costs of such a large scale project.
The obvious solution? Obama spends the stimulus dollars on developing jetpacks and hover cars. That way travel time is cut considerably and America re-takes the global technology lead. It's a win-win.