Image via Raise the Hammer
More good news from that economic stimulus bill that's poised to pump some serious money into green projects across the country: a big chunk of the funding will be used to create a huge new railroad system. Now I know what you're thinking—either I'm reporting on the wrong major recession, or now Obama is just copying the New Deal line by line. Not so. This is the biggest investment in rail in US history—and it could seriously change the way Americans travel. Here's how.The 8 Billion Dollar Railroad
The $8 billion investment in a high-speed rail system could effectively modernize much of the US railroads. And in the process, modernize the very concept of traveling by train as well—an idea of travel deemed antiquated by much of the nation. The only sector in which Amtrak makes an actual operating profit on running trains is in the Northeast, where larger cities are closer together than in other parts of the nation, and the primary infrastructure has been in place for decades.
Obama hopes to build upon that model by installing railroads to link cities in other parts of the nation—an effort he believes could help revitalize the Midwest. A faster rail service could relieve traffic congestion, conserve energy, prevent pollution, and offer greater accessibility for intercity travel. Which may be why it's a key part of Obama's vision for America's future—you may have heard him mention it a couple months back on the campaign trail.
"The time is right now for us to start thinking about high-speed rail as an alternative to air transportation connecting all these cities," Obama said. "And think about what a great project that would be in terms of rebuilding America."
A New Era for Railroads?
And change is possible—after 9/11, for instance, train ticket sales skyrocketed by 40 percent. With the proper incentives, many could again be convinced to ride a less expensive train to their destination instead of flying or driving. Which would be great news: railroads are one of the most sustainable modes of transportation available.
Railroads in places like the Midwest and California routinely operate at a loss, and survive only on government subsidies. And the idea that train travel is outdated—along with a dearth of destination options and lackluster service—is among the reasons it struggles. This $8 billion dollar overhaul, combined with an additional $1 billion scheduled for 2010, could go a long way to remedy America's railroad woes. The extensive project will also create thousands of jobs in the process.
With high speed service, more destinations on the menu, and a modern image, Americans might just be willing to park their SUVs and get on the train again.