Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimuls Plan has $9.3 billion for Rail

Yesterday, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus plan includes $9.3 billion for rail in the nation.

Last week at Bleeding Heartland, there was a great post that tells how this money might be spent in the midwest to expand passenger rail service.

I think it is worth noting that not only is there substantial support for high speed passenger rail in Congress (the original amount was $3 billion in the House and $2.25 billion in the Senate - apparently somebody in the conference committee likes us), but there is broad support among the public. Out here in the Midwest, we have been working to gain support and funding for a high speed passenger rail network, with its hub in Chicago. This system would provide high speed service to St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, the Twin Cities and Omaha. For a little context, the trip from Omaha to Detroit is approximately a quarter of the width of the continental 48 states. [...]

What is even more impressive to me is how rail can really be a model for how to actually engage diverse players in building a sustainable economy. Here in Iowa, we are building a coalition of labor, business and youth organizations (in addition to the traditional environmental groups) to work together on getting high speed passenger rail approved this year. And we're not just talking liberal groups either. For example Jan Michaelson, a local conservative talk show host, had nothing but good things to say about rail when Andrew Snow from Iowa Global Warming joined his show this week. Talk about finally moving past partisanship - rail is one of the clearest vehicles to make this a reality (no apologies for the pun).

There are plenty of issues that can build a diverse base of support, but the thing is, high speed rail visibly makes lots of people's lives easier. Upgrading building efficiency largely goes unnoticed except for electricity bills; people don't see the wind energy powering their homes. But talk about saving yourself the hassle of driving several hours, not having to drive through traffic, and oh, did I mention that rail is about 3 times as efficient as driving and 6 times as efficient as flying. Oh, and hundreds to thousands of jobs will be created through construction and operation.

Iowa needs to work to make Des Moines a hub. Des Moines could connect Chicago and Omaha and Minneapolis and Kansas City (and eventually to Oklahoma City and Dallas). That would mean moving the Amtrack line out of southern Iowa. This would hurt the area, but there is a far great population in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids and Des Moines/Ames. Think about all the college students that could take the train home to Chicago or to the big city for a weekend trip or to visit other universities with exchange programs.

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