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Obama Putting High-Speed Rail on Fast Track After State of the Union

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OnEarth logoPresident Obama is hitting the road following tonight's State of the Union address -- but what's really on his mind is rail.

White House officials told reporters on Wednesday that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will visit Tampa, Fla., on Thursday for a major economic announcement: $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail infrastructure.

Thursday's awards will include projects on 13 major corridors, as well as smaller awards to improve parts of existing lines, The Wall Street Journal and many other news outlets reported. The grants are part of the administration's planned $13 billion investment in high-speed rail.

"This is in keeping with the White House's articulated jobs strategy," writes business reporter Derek Thompson for The Atlantic. "It's not just about jobs now. It's about jobs that last, and jobs that build something that lasts even longer."

Biden, perhaps the nation's most famous Amtrak commuter, wrote about "Why America Needs Trains" earlier this month on The Huffington Post: "With delays at our airports and congestion on our roads becoming increasingly ubiquitous, volatile fuel prices, increased environmental awareness, and a need for transportation links between growing communities, rail travel is more important to America than ever before."

A year ago, in OnEarth's Spring 2009 issue, author Craig Canine made the case for why high-speed rail, long available in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, is finally coming to America (and why America needs it). In "On the Fast Track," Canine writes:

With its speed and convenience, high-speed rail could revolutionize travel in the United States by offering an attractive alternative to cars and airplanes for regional trips. Several states are improving existing rail lines with the goal of offering "medium-fast" (around 110 mph) service within the decade ... but California has pulled into the lead as the probable site of America's first true high-speed (top operating speed: 220 mph) system. Supporters hope it will be whizzing passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2020. Once the technology has a foothold in the United States, its rapid spread will become more and more likely as the economic, environmental, and practical benefits sink in. State-of-the-art high-speed rail systems don't come cheap, but the price of not building them will be astronomical, in both economic and environmental terms.

"As far as the planet's climate is concerned," Canine says, "high-speed rail can't come fast enough."

And in the current economic and political climate, the jobs associated with high-speed rail should be a welcome message for the Obama administration to roll out following tonight's highly anticipated speech.

This post originally appeared at OnEarth magazine. Read more about high-speed rail here.

Around the Web

California High-Speed Rail

High-speed rail - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Map Of Potential High-Speed Rail Built By The Stimulus

Obama unveils high-speed passenger rail plan -

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