Here comes the SUPERTRAIN


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.”

Lots more on the White House blog, with a bigger picture of the map here. I think this has a lot of potential to reduce congestion on highways and at airports, as rail travel is very well suited to medium range trips. Flying times may be a little faster, but when you factor in the need to go through security, it evens out quite a bit. Trains can come into town centers as well, making them easier to get to as well as accessible by public transportation. And while it would be ideal, as expressed by President Obama in his intro statement, for people to be able to step off of a high speed train and onto a light rail or subway line, there’s no reason why rental cars couldn’t be available as well.

If you look at that map, you might notice an obvious omission in the routes. As Yglesias says:

It seems strange to build so much track in Texas and not manage to link Houston with Dallas.

It’s a good thing, then, that there’s talk of building our own SUPERTRAIN that would provide a connection between Dallas and Houston. Perhaps the powers that are working on that vision can tap into this one as well. And hey, as long as I’m wishcasting, let’s throw in a Galveston connection, too. Seems to me if there was ever a time to make this happen, it’s now.

Finally, I should note that the House budget includes $182 million for the rail relocation and improvement fund, which will support the bonding of about $1.8 billion in rail projects. A press release from State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who authored the amendment that appropriated these funds, is beneath the fold.

Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio, House District 120) has gained approval by the House of Representatives to appropriate $182 million for the rail relocation and improvement fund, in floor action amending the state budget late Friday evening. Texas voters approved the creation of the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in a constitutional amendment election in 2005, following a previous enactment of legislation authored by McClendon to create the fund, subject to voter approval.

“Other than the first time I was sworn in as a Representative, this is quite possibly the single most thrilling moment I have experienced as a legislator and a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Even though the voters approved the establishment of this fund, obtaining legislative approval for the appropriations has been anything but easy. We will be working extremely hard to keep this funding in the final budget that will be voted out of the Legislature.”

This $182 million appropriation for 2010-2011 will support the bonding of about $1.8 billion in rail projects. In 2007, a tentative rail relocation plan developed by the Department of Transportation projected the needs for Texas as being upwards of $17 billion. Supporters of rail relocation and improvement efforts emphasize that Texas needs a comprehensive transportation plan which includes rail relocation and improvement as good and sound public policy. Advocates promote relocating of heavy rail lines to increase community safety, decrease traffic congestion, reduce emissions affecting air quality, and help the economy by creating a more efficient flow of goods throughout Texas and across the U.S. “Because of increasing population needs, the transportation of passengers and cargo between the east and west coasts, and within Texas, will be increasingly necessary no matter how many roads or traffic lanes we build,” McClendon said. “This is a great start toward meeting our future transportation needs.”

Approval of this funding will allow the Department of Transportation to utilize funding from the State Highway Fund that is not dedicated to other constitutional fund usage, and requires finding by the comptroller that there exists at least $182 million more dollars in the Highway Fund in 2010-2011 than it held in 2008-2009. This assures that funding for highway projects will not suffer any reduction in funds to support the $182 million rail relocation appropriation. “This appropriation means that Texas will be putting some ‘skin in the game’ to obtain matching funds, so we can maximize our chances for obtaining rail transportation funds from the federal stimulus package.”

During the 81st Session, Representative McClendon serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Transportation. She also serves as Chair of the House Committee on Rules & Resolutions. In addition, she serves on the Sunset Advisory Commission, which oversees regular review of all agencies under the auspices of the State of Texas. The 2009 Legislative Session is her seventh term serving District 120 in the Texas House; prior to that, she served as a City Council Member in San Antonio and as a juvenile probation office officer and administrator.

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