WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday outlined plans for a high-speed rail network he said would change the way Americans travel, drawing comparisons to the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system.
Obama characterized his plan as a down payment on a rail system that will take decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to build, connecting Tampa-Orlando-Miami, Chicago and St. Louis, Portland and Seattle and dozens of other metropolitan areas around the country.
"This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future," Obama said during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. "It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here."
The United States trails other developed countries in developing high-speed rail. The Spanish can travel the 386 miles from Madrid to Barcelona at speeds averaging almost 150 miles per hour. Japan's Shinkansen links its major cities at speeds averaging 180 mph and France's TGV averages about 133 mph carrying passengers from Paris to Lyon.
The only U.S. rail service that meets the Federal Railroad Administration's 110 mph threshold to qualify as high-speed rail is Amtrak's 9-year-old Acela Express route connecting Boston to Washington, D.C.
Initially, regional transportation offices will compete for the $8 billion included in the $787 billion economic stimulus spending package for high-speed rail, bolstered by $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget.