From Grist comes this story about Barack Obama's encounter on the campaign trail with an Indiana man who works in Amtrak's Beech Grove shop, and the candidate's remarks about the importance of trains:
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.
This is something that we should be talking about a lot more. 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.
I really have nothing to add. Obama absolutely nails it here. He talks about connecting nearby regions with high speed rail to save money, to save time, to save on gas, to produce energy independence. These off-the-cuff remarks show that he is someone who clearly understands the value and purpose of high speed rail.
Hillary Clinton's ridiculous gas tax cut proposal tries to frame the issue of energy prices as one of high taxes. Obama instead gets what this is really about - we don't have enough alternatives to oil-based transportation. The way to lower the cost of transportation for Americans isn't to give them a meaningless gas tax cut that will put $30 in their pocket but devastate federal transportation spending - it's to spend the money on the systems, like high speed rail, that will help reduce their overall gas consumption. Hillary is talking about saving people $30 over a summer; Obama is talking about saving people thousands over the course of years.
That being said, I wouldn't object if Hillary began speaking more about supporting mass transit and high speed rail. For that matter, Obama needs to be making this a more central part of his campaign narrative. I'm with Grist - "Why doesn't transit have higher profile in this campaign?"