White House stumps for high-speed rail

Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met today with a group of governors and state transportation officials to forge ahead with a vision for how to spend $13 billion of federal dollars allocated for the creation of a high speed rail system in the US.

Biden: high hopes for
high-speed rail

“We’re going to start building a high-speed rail system that will loosen the congestion suffocating our highways and skyways, and make travel in this country leaner, meaner and a whole lot cleaner,” Vice President Biden said in a statement.

In attendance today were the governors of Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, along with department of transportation officials from 15 other states. All governors were invited to participate.

The roundtable was intended to gather state leaders’ ideas for jump-starting a “world-class passenger rail system” in the US with the help of funding from the federal government, according to a statement. In April, President Obama released a strategic plan outlining $13 billion in federal funds to encourage development of high-speed rail in the US.

Of that, $8 billion was appropriated in the government’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed into law in February. The remainder is requested in the President’s budget and is yet to be affirmed by Congress’ appropriations process.

The states will have the opportunity to leverage that money through the use of public-private partnerships, according to a person at the Department of Transportation familiar with the effort.

Detailed guidance for up to the first half of the $8 billion appropriated in the ARRA will be announced by the middle of this month. The first round of grants is expected to be awarded in late summer, according to the statement.

The meeting, the last in a series of similar events held by the Obama administration, follows a recent fact-finding trip by Secretary LaHood to Europe to find out more about high-speed rail. Among other events, he rode Spain’s high-speed AVE from Madrid to Zaragoza with Spanish Development Minister Jose Blanco and discussed the benefits and operations of high speed rail systems in that country.

“Do you know the Spanish have a goal of establishing high-speed rail stations within 30 kilometers of 90 percent of all Spaniards by 2020? Now, that's ambition,” Secretary LaHood wrote on his blog today.