Just this Monday I was writing on Florida’s forgotten high speed rail plans from way back in 2003. Well just yesterday Obama announced his plan for an initial investment of $13 billion to get American H.S.R. off the ground, $8 billion from the stimulus package and a projected additional $5 billion over the next five years from the legislature. And who’s front-and-center but Florida, with outstretched hand and a request for $1.5 billion. Great to hear.
According to the USDOT, funding will advance along three “tracks” (ba-da-bing!): shovel-ready individual projects from states, like that proposed by Florida but also infrastructure improvement plans that would help upgrade existing track to H.S.R. capacity; interstate corridor projects such as the one proposed between Chicago and St. Louis; and finally pure planning projects where the feds will help states get ready to apply for project funding. Check out the image below from the USDOT that shows all the proposed H.S.R. links:
Clearly $13 billion is not going to be even close to enough to fund a nation-wide network of H.S.R. corridors. California alone is looking for $8 billion (PDF) over the next eight years with an overall budget for the project of $30 billion. But Obama knows all this and sees the money only as a “first step” toward “changing the way we travel in America.” In the meantime, he’s right to emphasize the economic boost that will come from such heavy construction involving incredible amounts of manufactured parts and man-hours to install them. Even the WSJ is hopeful that the spending will result in a boon to American businesses. They cite an analyst from a financial advisory firm who claims that “higher U.S. spending on passenger rail could benefit a wide range of U.S. companies. Among them: Harsco Corp., which makes rail right-of-way equipment; Portec Rail Products Inc., which makes rail spikes and joints; and Wabtec Corp., which makes passenger-train locomotives and other transit-related parts.”
That’s the thing about public investments: everybody wins! Producers and manufacturers gain from increased government spending while consumers gain from increased public services. It’s amazing that this kind of work needs to get hidden beneath the cloak of Stimulus to gain wide-spread support. But I shouldn’t complain, I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. We’re finally going to join the ranks of other industrialized nations with a working train system of our very own.