But this week, Obama did more than just talk, he acted, putting a big down payment on a high speed rail network that will cut pollution, save energy, and provide good jobs in the clean energy economy.
On Thursday, President Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary (and former Illinois Republican congressman) Ray LaHood announced $8 billion in economic recovery money dedicated to building high speed rail and otherwise improving rail transportation across much of the country.
That’s good for cutting climate change and improving air quality, since rail transportation is more energy efficient and overall less polluting than cars or planes. That’s assuming people actually use it, though, and long travel times compared to flying have hurt Amtrak’s public acceptance, even as it’s fastest routes grew their ridership (page 6).
It’s good for creating American manufacturing and other blue collar jobs, too. The administration estimates it will add and protect tens of thousands by the time the money is fully spent.
It’s also a big change from the last administration. In 2007, when the independent, congressionally mandated National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission released its final report on funding and improving our road and rails, recommending $7-$9 billion per year in passenger rail investments (sound like a familiar number?), then-Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters was one of only three commissioners to object (page 65) to passenger rail funding, and President Bush showed little interest in the issue.