On April 16, President Barack Obama announced a strategic plan to “transform travel in America” by improving existing passenger rail systems and investing in 100- to 600-mile corridors for world class high-speed rail. “What we need is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st Century... a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs,” said President Obama, who added that a high-speed rail network could reduce our annual demand for foreign oil by millions of barrels and our annual carbon dioxide emissions by six billion pounds.

The President was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, well-known for his inter-city rail commutes during his Senate career, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in making the announcement. Details of the strategic plan were outlined by Federal Rail Administration officials Karen Rae and Paul Nissenbaum.

Vice President Biden emphasized that while much of the attention of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has deservedly been the near-term “Recovery” provisions, the high-speed rail plan will also make significant contributions to longer-term “Reinvestment” goals. “We’re making a down payment today -- a down payment on the economy for tomorrow,” he said, as well as “a giant environmental down payment.”

The administration plans to move quickly and begin funding individual projects that improve speeds on existing rail systems by the end of this summer. Separate funding tracks will be available for full corridor programs and planning activities.

ARRA provided $8 billion for high-speed rail and the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 includes another $1 billion per year (for the next five years) -- although these investments will only be the first steps toward national high-speed rail development. Mr. Nissenbaum emphasized the need for a long-term commitment at the federal, state and local levels coupled with public-private partnerships to bring the vision to fruition.

Click here for links to the strategic plan and a map of potential high-speed rail corridors.