Obama's Grand Rail Plans: What Went Wrong?

Four years after a historic down payment was made on Pres. Obama's plan to connect 80 percent of Americans to fast trains, "the prospects for a national high-speed rail system seem bleak." Politics and funding challenges have derailed the plan.
BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

For high-speed rail proponents, it's been four long years since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a historic $8 billion down payment on the development of a nationwide network of high-speed rail. "Today," notes Yonah Freemakr, "while Amtrak ridership continues to increase, improvements to the rail system thus far have been too minor for most people to notice."

Freemark explains how the failure to find a dedicated funding source and the use of the topic as a wedge issue by Republicans have conspired to put the future of the federal high-speed rail program in doubt.

"Though the president mentioned high-speed rail in his State of the Union address this year, the transportation mode is absent from his new focus on urgent repairs of the nation’s infrastructure. Nationwide, the political winds suggest that there will likely be little significant progress over the next four years."

"Unless there is some unforeseen progress in convincing Republicans of the value of rail investments, federal spending on this transportation mode will be constrained for years," he concludes. "The Obama administration’s plan for a U.S. high-speed rail system, then, remains little more than a vision."

Full Story: Will They or Won’t They? The Romance Between Obama and High-Speed Rail



Acela vs Talgo

Current status of the California HSR project is revealling. The 200mph system nearly tripled the promised cost with severe construction impacts that created opposition. Los Angeles and the Bay Area Peninsula have brought cost in line with desirable upgrades to existing railway corridors. Conservative Fresno however insists upon 200mph infrastructure - to serve big development plans in town - and extend the 200mph system through 'pristine state parks' and low-populated areas instead of the cities from Stockton to Fremont on the existing ACE Amtrak corridor.

In other words, conservative Fresno ruined the California project from the start. Ideological opponents of mass transit used an effective means to kill HSR nationally with grandiose 200mph systems that waste time and money and convert rail supporters into opponents. Those who still support 200mph Bombardier Acela-type HSR plan for failure. Talgo-type HSR systems are more applicable to most US passenger-rail corridors.

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