President Obama to Lay Out Plans for High-Speed Train Travel

Still, supporters and frequent travelers, like Cassano, point out that in the Northeast, more passengers ride the rails between Washington and New York than fly.

The government says there are 10 other areas of the country where faster trains could compete, time-wise, with cars and planes. Those include routes such as Chicago to St. Louis and Milwaukee; Miami to Orlando, Fla.; Eugene, Ore., to Seattle; and Ft. Worth, Texas to Little Rock, Ark.

"The sweet spot for high-speed rail is where you have major urban areas that are 100 to 500 to 600 miles apart," said Mark Yachmetz, associate administrator for railroad development for the Federal Railroad Administration.

Yachmetz said that's where trains will be able to compete time-wise with cars and planes.

Amtrak hopes some of the stimulus money from the federal government can go toward improvements to the tracks it runs its trains on, most of which are owned by freight railroads.

"The track that's out there today ... for most of it we can't go over 79 miles per hour," Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told ABC News.

Boardman said Amtrak would like to raise the speed, on lines that serve major cities, to 110 miles an hour.

"This 110 mile per hour service," he said, "is what we ought to be looking at from an incremental basis."

"[Obama's] not talking about high-speed rail -- those are those bullet trains in Japan and France -- he's talking about medium-speed rail," Mitchell said. "In other words, instead of going 75 mph, maybe go 100 miles an hour. Is that worth $8 billion of tax payer money? No, it's not."

Boardman, not surprisingly, said, "You bet it is" worth the investment to update the tracks, though he does agree it will take much more money than the government has allocated already to truly bring about high-speed rail.

"We are not going to see 200 miles per hour trains with an $8 billion investment," Boardman said.

Joe Sussman, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also thinks the Obama administration is moving in the right direction, despite the high price tag.

'A Potential Game Changer'

The pros, he said, are that high-speed rail could help relieve airport congestion and could also help the environment by curbing emissions from airplanes and automobiles. Sussman added we should be thinking about regional systems, such as a high-speed train from Tampa, Fla., to Orlando, Fla., and Miami as well as in the Northeast corridor.

"This is not chump change, but it is a potential game changer, I think," Sussman told ABC News.

The high-speed rail priorities laid out by the Obama administration this next week will guide states as they apply for the rail stimulus money. The Department of Transportation expects to start getting grant applications from states this summer.

"As a developed country, for us to have the low-quality rail systems that we have is extraordinary," Sussman said.

"There has never been this degree of commitment to railroad investment and, in particular, high-speed rail investment," added Yachmetz.

"I think we will see it sooner than a lot of people expect," Yachmetz said.

ABC News' Matt Hosford contributed to this report.

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