Barack Obama’s reshaping of America is continuing at full speed, this time with the transport system. Yesterday, in an inspiring speech, President Obama outlined his vision for a network of high-speed rail corridors across America.

Introduced by Vice President Biden, well known for being a train-enthusiast and a regular commuter, Obama delivered a stimulating speech already compared by some to Kennedy’s moon speech. He painted a picture of travel made simple (“No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes”), clean and fast. He noted that while this may seem futuristic to Americans, high-speed rail have been a reality in many countries from Japan to Spain, citing the prosperity it brought with it. Once more he challenged America to return to its former leading position, and reminded Americans that it was much-admired Lincoln who first expanded the nation’s infrastructure and invested heavily in connecting East and West (by rail and telegraph).

To me he seemed a little frustrated by the naysayers, whether it was when he was describing the wonders of the high-speed rails in foreign countries (over 300mph in Japan, bringing growth to isolated regions in France) while the US is lagging behind, or with those who believe that a time of crisis is not the time to make big changes. It was for their benefit mostly, that he invoked Lincoln’s investment in infrastructure, done during the civil war.

He also promised impatient supporters of change that this is just the beginning – the $8 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (which have to be spent within two years) and the additional one billion a year for the next five years (as requested in the FY 2010 budget) are, as far as both Obama and Biden are concerned, only a down payment.

And for anyone who feels that actions are better than words, no matter how stimulating or revolutionary, the speed with which the Obama administration is moving will be encouraging – this strategic plan was issued before the Congressional deadline (only 58 days after the Recovery Act was passed) and the first round of grant awards are expected to be announced before the end of the summer, which is 3 years ahead of the schedule required by law.

The main points of the President’s vision are –

  • Rebuilding existing rail infrastructure
  • Launching high-speed rail services in 100-600 mile corridors that connect US communities
  • These will be developed through partnership between the public sector and private industry, with a national vision, provided by a strong Federal leadership

A transcript of both Biden’s and Obama’s speeches can be found here; a video of Obama can be found here, and highlights of the strategic plan are in this pdf document.

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