Two previous U.S. presidents had the courage, vision and foresight to change the transportation landscape, and transform the economic climate, by spearheading mega-construction projects: the transcontinental railroad (Abraham Lincoln) and the interstate highway system (Dwight Eisenhower). The new Obama administration can make history by creating a world-class high-speed rail network in the United States.


Building a high-speed rail network would cost a ton of money, but it would also put an awful lot of people to work. Photo courtesy Siemens AG


The new Obama administration has its hands full addressing a wide range of issues and problems, ranging from the economy and the war to healthcare reform and no child left behind. There’s also lots of talk about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Just this past week, the American Society of Civil Engineerssaid that after “decades of underfunding and inattention” the U.S. infrastructure needs no less than $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades.

We certainly need many new roads and bridges. Anyone who drives on Chicago-area streets this time of the year can attest to that. However, I would also urge the new team in Washington to start laying out a game plan that would establish a world-class high-speed rail network in the United States.

If you’ve ever travelled on the TGVin France or theShinkansenin Japan, you know what I’m talking about-aerodynamic, electric-powered trains that travel smoothly, safely, quietly and efficiently from city to city at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

Last November, California voters approved a proposition that may some day lead to a high-speed rail system connecting urban areas in the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Similar proposals are under consideration in the Midwest and the Southeast.

Proponents of the California plan claim that more than 100 million passengers would ride their high-speed system by 2030. Without starting to make an investment today, tomorrow’s traffic congestion on highways will grow much worse and airport delays will intensify.

To serve the same number of passengers as the proposed train system, California would reportedly have to build 3,000 lane-miles of freeway, five airport runways and 90 departure gates. But, all that new infrastructure would come with a steep price tag-more than twice the construction cost and environmental impact as high-speed rail.

I realize that building a high-speed rail network would cost a ton of money. On the other hand, it would also put an awful lot of people to work. Perhaps the locomotives and rolling stock, not to mention signals, sensors and other communication equipment, could be built in one of the GM assembly plants recently shuttered in Dayton, OH, or Janesville, WI.

Two previous U.S. presidents had the courage, vision and foresight to change the transportation landscape, and transform the economic climate, by spearheading similar mega-construction projects. In the early 1860s, Abraham Lincoln championed the transcontinental railroad, which spurred rapid development in the agricultural, mining and manufacturing sectors. One hundred years later, Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system paved the way for explosive growth in the automotive and trucking industries, not to mention the fast-food business and other spin-offs, such as suburban shopping malls.

After years of talk and no action on high-speed rail, it’s time to finally get America on the right track.