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

President Obama hopes to invest in high-speed trains. But there are critics.

ByABC News
April 10, 2009, 11:06 AM

April 12, 2009— -- Victoria Cassano rides the rails twice a week between her job in Washington and her home in New York. She does so on America's fastest train, Amtrak's Acela service. But she'd like to see true high-speed rail in this country, like much of Europe and Asia enjoy.

"I think we should be funding these types of systems," Cassano said. "This is a great way to travel."

If your dream job is in bustling Boston and your dream home is on a Virginia farm -- or if you're imagining a house in the San Francisco hills, a job in Anaheim, and a commute that gets you home in time for dinner -- take heart: If President Obama has his way, a speedy commute on a high-speed train could become a reality.

This week, Obama will unveil his vision for high-speed rail in the United States after unexpectedly adding $8 billion to the economic stimulus package for high-speed train travel -- the biggest commitment of its kind ever made by the federal government.

America is miles behind. In Japan, the bullet train can wisk passengers from one city to the next at nearly 200 miles an hour. It's the same on France's TGV train, where passengers can get from Paris to Lyon in a little less than two hours. A dozen countries around the world enjoy high-speed rail, but America is not one of them.

On his recent trip to Europe, Obama himself seemed envious.

"I am always jealous about European trains," Obama said April 3 in Strasbourg, France. "And I said to myself, 'why can't we have high-speed rail?' And so, we're investing in that as well."

Ready to climb aboard? Not so fast. Since 1980, every state effort in the United States to build high-speed rail has failed. Budget-battered California has proposed a 220 miles per hour bullet train that would link San Francisco to Los Angeles in just two-and-a-half hours -- with a price tag of $45 billion.

Critics now argue that investing federal dollars in high-speed rail is a waste of money, especially given how much it would take to upgrade or even build new train tracks between cities they argue are separated by distances that are not conducive to this type of travel.

It's a huge investment that Daniel Mitchell, senior fellow at the libertarian think tank, the CATO Institute, called "just ludicrous," especially given the tanking economy.

"If California voters want to throw money down a rat hole for high-speed rail, then let them," Mitchell said. "At least that is not going to cost the tax payers of Minnesota and South Carolina any money."

"You might as well have the government invest in nuclear-powered bicycles," Mitchell added. "That's probably the only thing I could imagine that would be more of a waste of money than inter-city rail."