Pols block high-speed rail that Americans want, U.S. transportation secretary says

Posted: July 12, 2012

U.S. TRANSPORTATION Secretary Ray LaHood blasted America's "unenlightened elected officials" on Wednesday while speaking in Philadelphia at the first international conference on high-speed rail to be held in the United States.

Those elected officials, of course, did not include his boss, President Obama.

"Common, ordinary citizens are enlightened about this issue," said LaHood, referencing polls that show a majority of Americans want bullet trains. "The bottom line really is this: High-speed rail and passenger rail and the kind of investment that needs to be made cannot be done unless there are people of vision" in government.

With just one high-speed train, America lags behind many countries in Europe and Asia that have invested in extensive systems for decades. Organizers said bringing the World Congress on High Speed Rail to Philadelphia was meant to help encourage U.S. development of the new technology.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, praised Obama's support for high-speed trains, including the $8 billion set aside for the industry in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or "stimulus" program.

Federal funds will help California build a rail line to carry bullet trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a recently approved state project expected to cost more than $168 billion.

In his remarks at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, LaHood touted his victory in California and criticized Republican governors in Florida and Ohio who have rejected federal aid for high-speed projects due to state budgetary constraints. The federal money requires a state contribution.

Right now, Amtrak's Acela line in the Northeast Corridor is America's only high-speed train, running from Boston to Washington and stopping at 30th Street Station. Completed in the 1990s, the project was mired in political and technical setbacks, but the line has risen in popularity since opening in 2000.

Much slower than some bullet trains abroad, Acela's top speed is 150 mph, and it averages about 70. But it is still faster and cheaper than flying between most destinations in the Northeast, making it popular for business travel.

The Obama administration has plans for 80 percent of Americans to have access to high-speed rail by 2035, although many observers say that figure is unrealistic.

"I'm very proud of the work that we have done, but we have a long way to go, a very long way to go," LaHood said. n

Contact Sean Collins Walsh at 215-854-5907 or email him at walshse@phillynews.com.

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