U.S. Unveils $53 Billion Rail Plan

Plan would give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years

The Obama administration on Feb. 8 called on Congress to back a six-year, $53 billion investment in high-speed, intercity rail, saying it was "dreaming big" on reinventing infrastructure.

Vice President Joe Biden, an enthusiastic rail advocate, unveiled the planned investment, which would give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, at an event in Philadelphia. The investment will build on an initial $10.5 billion down-payment already made by the administration on a national high-speed rail system.

It remained unclear however whether the program would be fully or partially funded by Congress, as Republicans who now lead the House of Representatives have hit out at President Barack Obama's infrastructure spending plans.

Biden and Obama argue that reinvigorating America's creaking Amtrak service, makes sense for economic, practical and environmental reasons, and advocates bemoan the limited routes of the current high-speed rail network.

"As a longtime Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced," Biden said.

"This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans."

The service envisages three types of interconnected rail corridors -- including a core express service with electric trains whisking passengers along dedicated tracks at between 125 and 250 miles per hour. Another network of regional corridors would see trains travel at speeds between 90-125 miles per hour (144 and 200 kilometers per hour) to cut trip times, while a third branch of services would funnel passengers towards speedy inter-city networks.

"In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big," Ray LaHood, Obama's Secretary of Transportation. This historic investment in Americas high-speed rail network keeps us on track toward economic opportunity and competitiveness in the 21st century."

Obama argued in the State of the Union address last month that reinventing America's economy and reviving U.S. infrastructure was crucial to tackling high unemployment and helping the economy complete with rising giants like China and India.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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