President Obama recently unveiled a 53 billion dollar plan to make high-speed rail (trains that go faster than 250 miles an hour) accessible to 80 percent of Americans within the next twenty-five years.
This investment would be in addition to the eight billion dollars of stimulus money that was invested in rail in 2009 and would be the largest federal investment in rail in history.
If this plan is any indication, Obama is serious about “winning the future,” as he said in the State of the Union.
The current plan calls for 8 billion of the funds to come from the federal budget and the remaining 45 billion to come from the transportation reauthorization bill.
Now, I know that you might not think that this bill is important to you, but there are many ways in which 53 billion dollars invested in high-speed rail would be good for both citizens and the American economy.
First, high-speed rail will help America move off of oil.
It’s no secret that oil is an expensive fuel that is polluting our earth and our politics.
At around three dollars a gallon nationwide, gas is one of the most frequently purchased goods in America and can be a significant expense, especially for college students with little income.
And a good portion of America’s daily oil diet (19.54 million barrels per day) comes from politically volatile countries in the Middle East, many of whom openly oppose the United States and/or restrict their citizens’ freedom.
While I don’t think that countries shouldn’t disagree with or oppose the United States government, I do think it would be best if we stopped supporting authoritarian regimes (such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia) that limit peoples’ rights.
And since rail travel can be powered by electricity and is far more efficient than personal automobiles, increased use of high-speed rail would cut our oil consumption drastically.
However, dirty oil politics are not the only thing that increased access to rail would help. As anyone who has driven the Washington D.C. Beltway at rush hour can tell you, traffic jams and frustration are a daily occurrence due to commuters.
If rail were more accessible and affordable, commuters could ditch the car and take the train instead, reducing both stress and hours wasted sitting in traffic or looking for parking.
Third, federal investment in rail transportation is positive because it will create jobs and provide affordable transportation, helping us to “win the future.”
Railroads don’t build themselves and if we are going to expand our railways, this means we will need to hire a host of engineers, geologists, planners, and construction workers.
Even after the railroads are completed, conductors, rail maintenance workers, and engineers will be needed to ensure that the trains run safely and efficiently.
But the benefits don’t end with job creation.
If 80 percent of Americans have access to affordable high-speed rail, this would mean that people without cars could get to work easily, business travel would be more efficient, and people could avoid airport security and traffic jams.
They could even get work done, read, or sleep on the train while they’re commuting or going to visit family.
Now who doesn’t want to be able to travel efficiently and safely across the country instead of sitting in traffic and wasting money on gas?
So while Obama’s 53 billion dollar high-speed rail plan may seem like extraneous government spending, it is in fact a much-needed investment in infrastructure and the clean energy economy that will help us to “win the future” and reduce our carbon footprints.