Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Obama talks up high speed rail, Amtrak

Some interesting news for those who are wondering how passenger rail transit will be playing into this year’s presidential race. During a lunch/political event with a family in Beech Grove, Indiana Obama lamented America’s lack of high-speed rail in comparison to other industrialized countries. Further, he supported the idea of implementing high-speed rail between the major Midwestern cities… “Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis.” To my chagrin, he forgot Minneapolis/St. Paul, but I’m willing to overlook that. If you can set aside the cynicism generally necessary when hearing campaign promises such as this, it’s a pretty encouraging read.

On HSR in the Midwest:

“The irony is with the gas prices what they are, we should be expanding rail service. One of the things I have been talking bout for awhile is high speed rail connecting all of these Midwest cities – Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis. They are not that far away from each other. Because of how big of a hassle airlines are now. There are a lot of people if they had the choice, it takes you just about as much time if you had high speed rail to go the airport, park, take your shoes off.”

On the advantages of rail and America’s lag in HSR implementation:

“This is something that we should be talking about a lot more,” Obama said. “We are going to be having a lot of conversations this summer about gas prices. And it is a perfect time to start talk about why we don’t’ have better rail service. We are the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have high speed rail. We just don’t’ have it. And it works on the Northeast corridor. They would rather go from New York to Washington by train than they would by plane. It is a lot more reliable and it is a good way for us to start reducing how much gas we are using. It is a good story to tell.”

And of course, Obama’s policy compares very favorably to McCain’s staunch anti-rail position.

Filed under: Amtrak, Passenger Rail Politics, United States High Speed Rail, , ,

18 Responses

  1. fpteditors says:

    A hopeful sign. Nice reporting.
    Obama has a large grassroots base. He is starting an organizers’ school to keep it up after the election. This is the only way we will get anything accomplished. As bad as the auto system is, it is making some people a lot of money.

  2. Chris says:

    This is fantastic news. I’ve been an Obama supporter for a while, but presidential campaigns tend to be very quiet about any support for public transit. This is a good sign.

  3. fpteditors says:

    It is not just presidential candidates who have to be quiet. Do some searching on the web. Most “environmental” and “energy crisis” advocacy organizations (especially the big ones) do not mention, or barely mention, public transportation. The carbon-auto lobby has tremendous power over the public discussion. They recognize public transportation as a real threat to their profits. “Coincidently” it is the actual solution to our problems.

  4. […] alternatives. And fortunately, this has gotten people talking about passenger rail. This not only includes Barack Obama, the only major candidate not supporting the tax holiday, but also Delaware senator Thomas Carper. […]

  5. Neil Lori says:

    Neil Lori Common Sense Program thinks Obama is starting to get on the right track about Transporation. We will need a massive job program to get trains, tracks and trolleys up and running again. Obama gets that the era of cheap fuel is over. So I endorse him for president. Neil Lori Common Sense Program Montclair New Jersey

  6. C. A. Turek says:

    Now that Mr. Obama has nailed the Democrat nomination, the encouraging sign is that he actually knew the corridors that had potential for HSR. Now if he can just make it clear that he understands why rail is a better alternative to the automobile in these corridors, and make this a plank in the Democrat platform, he is – forgive the pun – on the right track and he just may have my vote.

  7. Norm Cunningham says:

    There are these right of ways all over the nations highways that are used for very little. And purchasing private land would not be necessary

  8. […] Obama speaks up again on high-speed rail For those who are wondering how each of the major presidential candidates will be addressing our nation’s tranportation problems, the answer is becoming increasingly clear. John McCain has shown himself to be an enemy of Amtrak and a friend to the auto and air industries, while Barack Obama has said that he wants to put high-speed rail lines on the ground. […]

  9. A. Schirmer says:

    Whoever goes to the White House needs to present a plan that capitalizes on existing infrastructure, while enhancing it (such as adding overhead electrical wiring on some short-haul routes). Strategically linking with urban and regional commuter rail would be key. This would be a way of ensuring we keep the ball rolling without giving sticker shock to the uninformed/uninterested segments of the population.

    My personal preference is for a mostly electrically-powered rail system, and the reason for that is the inherent flexibility it has for its source of power. Whichever way the energy industry goes (whether nuclear, clean coal, solar, wind, or a mix of all), it would be transparent to an electric train system.

    I just hope we don’t waste another 4 or 8 years in “studies”, or “waiting for the right technology to come along”. The technology is there, and it has been tested and proven in countries like Japan, Germany, France, etc. If we are humble enough to borrow best practices from others, we’ll save ourselves some time and a lot of heartache. Studies abound. I bet you that if we were to look at the regional and local level, we would find dozens of studies done per city.

    What I definitely would NOT want to see is a national-scale scenario similar to what has happened in Atlanta over the last 15 years:
    One opportunity after another to expand the commuter rail system (already in place since the late 70’s) wasted due to political reasons.

  10. Rog says:

    A. Schirmer,
    You are definitely on-point with your analysis. Such much of the U.S’ rail system is already in place and being used for freight transport. Instead of spending billions to bail out failed private banking and mortgage firms, that money, OUR money should be used to upgrade our commuter/passenger intercity and interstate rail system.

  11. […] could potentially have as great an effect on our nation as FDR’s New Deal.  Things like his plan to build high speed rail connecting the major cities of the midwest.  This is a way to killa whole flock of birds with one […]

  12. A. Schirmer says:

    Check out this proposal from J.R. Crawford for the Adaptation of the Interstate Highway System to Rail Use ( A very similar idea had recently occurred to me while traveling long distance and it was precisely in the initial research of it that I stumbled onto his website.

    It is clear that he has done extensive research on the subject, and I commend him for knowledge of the U.S. Rail system, which strongly supports his case. I’m in agreement with most points, and in principle, I support his position. Something needs to be done, relatively quickly, and with a minimal investment, but with enough foresight and intelligent design to ensure it remains in place and operating for a long time. Mr. Crawford’s proposal fits the bill. I’ve tried sending him an e-mail about it, but it has bounced twice (his mailbox is full).

    Here are some of my observations – but to make sense of them, please read J.R.’s article first in its entirety:

    There is no doubt that the high cost of gasoline and diesel fuel will impact the use of passenger cars, lowering the demands on the interstate highway system, but I seriously doubt that it will come down so much as to allow for the use of an entire lane, especially in highways with only 2 lanes going in each direction. Presently, I-75 south of Chattanooga and I-95 south of Richmond are operating at capacity or near-capacity levels, such that a disruptive event like an accident, construction, or bad weather invariably cause backups, and these are highways with 3- and 4- lanes going each way. I would suggest considering the use of the median, instead of the pavement, as the area to build on for most routes where (a) the median is wide enough (b) the terrain is level, or the slope is not so pronounced, (c) it does not interfere with emergency vehicle or side road access, and (d) there are no expectations of widening the highway in the future. Utilizing the median will also allow for better grading in areas with gentle-sloping hills, which are fine for cars, but difficult for railroads to maneuver. Crawford’s proposal is rightly based on the fact that the design work has already been performed on the highway and would not need to be repeated. What I suggest is intended to ease some of the constraints on passenger comfort, vehicle and road stress, and general criticism of the system that might ensue once the proposal becomes public knowledge. Stations could still occupy the median in most cases through a slight course variation. The same applies to bridges and overpasses.

    I agree that an initial implementation of Diesel fuel-powered alternators may be the best for the short-term, especially on the longer, western US routes where running an overhead catenary cable would be impractical and inefficient until a more effective, “smart grid” is created. However, I would push hard to have the electrical system developed in conjunction with the road/rail modifications where it makes sense to do so, expanding it radially from the northeast to neighboring states. The rationale behind this is the flexibility that it provides the energy industry to draw its energy from different sources (coal, nuclear, solar, wind, or a mix of these), rather that placing any additional pressure on the demand for hydrocarbons.

    Mr. Crawford mentions aluminum as the material of choice for the trains. There’s the opportunity to decrease weight even more by manufacturing using composites, which can be made to handle stronger impacts with no deformation and require significantly less maintenance. Logically, the upfront cost could be higher, but it would be offset with less maintenance and repairs down the road. The main benefit though, is still the weight.

    A balance needs to be struck between the cost of initial studies and the development of train and track technology and the cost we would incur by waiting too long to implement a system such as the one he proposes. We should still maximize the use, expand the reach, and enhance the safety of existing and under-utilized rail lines (the current Amtrak map is severely limited), while preparing for the transition to something more practical. The short and long term benefits to the economy (energy efficiency, R&D, local employment, etc.) are far-reaching. I just hope that the upcoming administration realizes this and acts on it.

    I am very curious as to what sort of feedback he has so far received. I wish I had a chance to talk to him and get additional thoughts.

  13. John says:

    These are some jerkwater cities he mentioned. Indianapolis? Milwaukee? Come on now. The most appropriate initial route I think would be from NY to Cleveland to Chicago to Denver to Vegas to Los Angeles. One nice diagonal that would connect our three most major cities together. In addition, LAX, DIA, O’HARE and NY are the most trafficked in the US excluding Atlanta.

  14. […] equally polluting road-trips. Thankfully, Obama thinks as I do on this point: he’s on record praising Europe’s rail system as an example to America. But let’s talk ideas to […]

  15. TowsonX says:

    Wow. Amtrak? More money thrown in the trash!
    One day our kids will look back and see this billion dollar investment as the biggest waist of tax payer money in history.
    Obama is losing it. He has the opportunity to make history, and this is what is proposed.
    Meglev is the rail technology of the future and here we go blowing it on a mode of transportation that has seen little improvement in the past 50 years. Meglev will cost much more, but is safer, twice as fast and where we should be going if we’re ell bent on burdening future generations with this mountain of National debt.
    What next a big investment in the Pony Express? Investments in Stage Coach Companies?

  16. Anonymous says:


  17. agrifinee says:

    Engaging site. Hope to come back=)

  18. […] equally polluting road-trips. Thankfully, Obama thinks as I do on this point: he’s on record praising Europe’s rail system as an example to America. But let’s talk ideas to […]

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