‘IT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW,’ JUST NOT HERE…. We haven’t heard too much about high-speed rail lately, except for the debunked GOP talking about the non-existent earmarks for HSR between Las Vegas and Disneyland.

The president tried to move the policy discussion in a more productive direction this mornig.


President Barack Obama on Thursday highlighted his ambition for the development of high-speed passenger rail lines in at least 10 regions, expressing confidence in the future of train travel even as he acknowledged that the American rail network, compared to the rest of the world’s, remains a caboose.

With clogged highways and overburdened airports, economic growth was suffering, Mr. Obama said from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, shortly before leaving for a weekend trip to Latin America.

“What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

Obama went on to say, “Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. It is happening right now, it’s been happening for decades. The problem is, it’s been happening elsewhere, not here.”

The other problem is paying for it. The president noted the $8 billion for high-speed rail projects in the stimulus package, with an additional $1 billion in the budget for HSR, all of which Obama described as a “jump start” towards the broader national goal.

And where would the time-saving, emissions-reducing, job-creating, traffic-cutting rail go? The White House report identified 10 high-speed rail corridors as “potential” recipients of funding: California, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub Network, Florida, Southeast, Keystone, Empire and Northern New England. A press release added, “Also, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston to compete for funds to improve the nation’s only existing high-speed rail service.”

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said it is “thrilled with this initiative.”

Matt Yglesias, who follows the issue rather closely and seems encouraged by today’s presentation, has more.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.