ABC News' Jon Garcia reports: In support of President Obama’s bid to “win the future,” America’s most famous Amtrak rider, Vice President Joe Biden, issued a stern warning about U.S. competitiveness in the high-speed rail game: “If we don’t get a grip, folks, they’ll not only be teaching us, they’re gonna own our kids.”
The “they” Biden is talking about are all the other countries in the world who are developing or expanding high-speed rail systems, including China, Japan, Spain and France.
“There’s a fundamentally new competition going on in the rest of the world,” Biden told a crowd at Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station. “We need to commit ourselves to investing in those key areas,” he said.
The nation’s infrastructure, including its rail systems, “are the veins and the arteries of commerce. You know, if those passageways get clogged, commerce is going to suffer and it’s going to show up on the bottom line and it shows up really quickly,” he said.
The White House has already made a $10.5 billion down payment devoted to a national high-speed rail system – including $8 billion of Recovery Act funds and $2.5 billion from the 2010 budget. Today’s announcement, the White House touts, will streamline the department of transportation grant and loan process, making it easier for cities, states and companies to get $8 billion to build new rail lines and upgrade and maintain older lines.
“We’re going to insist .. that there be a strong ‘Buy America’ requirement which can help us create tens of thousands of middle class jobs … These are real live jobs that pay real good money,” he said.
But some supporters of high-speed rail on Capitol Hill think the Obama administration plan isn’t the way to go.
“Amtrak’s Soviet-style train system is not the way to provide modern and efficient passenger rail service,” said Rep John Mica, a leading voice on transportation issues in the House. “With the first $10.5 billion in administration rail grants, we found that the Federal Railroad Administration is neither a capable grant agency, nor should it be involved in the selection of projects (and) what the Administration touted as high-speed rail ended up as embarrassing snail-speed trains to nowhere,” he said.
And other critics have said many of the rail projects proposed, including several hotly contested and expensive projects in Florida and California, cost too much money for the projected use and create environmental damage.
But Biden counters that congested airways and highways will cost billions more to expand and upgrade—and that keeping millions of cars off the road will be a large environmental benefit.
“This is the best bargain there is. As vital as rail travel is today, it’s only going to become more critical tomorrow,” he said.
Lisa Stark contributed.