During a recent visit to France, President Obama said, “I am always jealous about European trains. And I said to myself, ‘Why can’t we have high speed rail in America?'”
The same question occurred to me when I traveled around the world in 2007. I was astounded by the public transportation systems in Europe, New Zealand, and Australia and even wrote about the possibility of building high speed maglev rail systems in the U.S. upon returning from my trip. So I was overjoyed yesterday when President Obama announced his vision for such a system in America, beginning with his opening remarks:
“What we’re talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.”
Critics of the idea who insist that it would not work in the U.S because of the vast distances in our country miss the point. A high-speed rail system would initially focus on densely populated corridors to connect major metropolitan areas, such as shown in the following map prepared by the administration:
Although I was too young to remember when President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his intention to build an Interstate system across America, I suspect he also had detractors. Today few would argue that his idea was inspired. So is Obama’s plan. But as the President explained, this is neither a new idea nor new technology:
“Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It’s been happening for decades. The problem is it’s been happening elsewhere, not here. In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next:Â a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour.Â So it’s being done; it’s just not being done here.”
This is America! I have every confidence we can do this.