Wednesday, February 18, 2009

High-speed rail in the stimulus package

One of the most exciting pieces of the stimulus package is the approximately $8 billion dollars for high-speed rail. None of the proposals in the Senate or House bills had had more than $2 billion. But, by all accounts, it was Obama and the White House who, during the conference-committee stage, managed to push it up to $8 billion.

David Rogers in Politico has a useful rundown on how it all went down. And he adds:
Administration officials told Politico that when Obama outlines his 2010 budget next week, it will ask for $1 billion more for high-speed rail in each of the next five years.

Oddly enough, as Rogers and Yglesias and others have reported, several Republicans and some media outlets became obsessed with the notion that the rail money was mostly or entirely for a Los Angeles-Las Vegas route. In reality, that route could be pursued, but it may not be, and it'd be only one small part of a high-speed network.

So what will be funded? No one knows yet. But here's the map of rail corridors the Federal Railroad Administration has previously said it is interested in improving:

"High speed rail" in the sense we're talking about here is not the same as the rest of the rich world talks about. This mostly isn't building completely new lines; it's significantly improving the old ones. (The proposed California line, which passed a ballot measure last year, would be completely new, though, and very fast). A typical example would be Chicago-Detroit, where improvement could bring the current travel time of five and a half hours to under four. That would be a good investment.

: The NYT finally catches up with these points today (Feb 20).


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