Marketplace Scratch Pad

Are you on board?

Scott Jagow Apr 16, 2009

Today, the President unveiled his plan for a high-speed rail network. He identified 10 potential high-speed rail corridors and said the start-up funding would come from $8 billion in his stimulus package and another $5 billion over five years.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “It is happening right now, it’s been happening for decades. The problem is, it’s been happening elsewhere, not here.”

The proposed lines include: an east-west corridor in New York State, a northern New England line, a line connecting DC to Florida and the Gulf Coast through the Southeast, a Pennsylvania corridor, Texas to western Alabama, Texas to Oklahoma, the Pacific Northwest, and in California, LA to SF.

Here’s a map:

I love train travel, mostly in other countries. The problems with Amtrak are numerous. It’s too slow, too unreliable. It’s quasi-public and has never been fully funded by the government, although it’s getting some money from the stimulus package too. But being partially tethered to the government has probably also been a crutch.

The organizational structure for the high-speed network isn’t clear yet. If you go public-private, you run the risk of turning into Amtrak. If the government runs it 100%, well, the track record isn’t so good in that department.

But I like the idea, and high-speed rail would solve some of the inherent problems with train travel in such a geographically large country. It’s an expensive project, but I’m guessing people would be willing to pay for the service. If I could hop a train from LA to SF and be there in 2 and a half hours, and the ticket was even a small discount from a plane trip in a sardine can, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

What do you think?

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