At today's National Governor's Association meeting Joe Biden took the chance to call for investment in high speed rail as both economic stimulus and environmental action. Video thanks to Matt Yglesias and Think Progress:
There’s a reason when you turned on the olympics to watch them this past summer, you saw mag-lev trains going over 200 miles an hour in supposedly a third world country [i.e., China] in terms of its economy, blowing into town, dealing with environmental problems they have as well as transporting people in a way that we don’t even come close to being able to do. And as Barack has pointed out, and Jon Corzine knows, I may have a bit of a pro-rail bias. I think think of the jobs we can create in both construction and innovation if we make similarly bold investments here in the United States as well as the environmental payoff that flows from that kind of investment.
We should fast-track funding for the thousands of ready-to-go projects across the country that can quickly put people back to work and lay the foundation for long-term growth.
In the longer term, we are calling for the creation of a new National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will help us make the investments we need to build a 21st century transportation system – while creating jobs and taking the politics out of infrastructure spending. And it has the added benefit of making American business more competitive in the world.
Biden - or Vice President for SUPERTRAIN as Atrios calls him - is playing exactly the role we expected he would, an influential voice for high speed rail projects. Even though he does not have a formal policy role he has an important role in shaping the debate over the place of rail in our country's economic and transportation policy. Biden's remarks were carried live by CNN and are getting a lot of interest on the blogs, which can drive more coverage.
It would be wonderful if Biden had some influence over Obama's transportation appointments. But what's even more likely is Biden playing a major role in shepherding Obama's stimulus package through the Senate, which will hopefully include "fast track funding" for rail projects of the kind Biden described.
In any case, the Obama/Biden administration is already looking great for high speed rail. It's going to be up to us to make sure Congress comes through in 2009.
PS: BruceMcF has a great post at Daily Kos about coast to coast electric rail, riffing off of Rafael's Rapid Rail post from the weekend and Biden's comments today. Bruce's post is not about HSR per se - that's coming in a future article - but it is a good overview of how a tiered and electrified rail system could be rolled out on a nationwide basis. Worth the read.
UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor has some more details on the NGA meeting and high speed rail:
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) noted that his state already pledged $42 billion of state money in 2006 to rebuild roads, bridges, and highways, as well as to build a high-speed rail system.
"We hope that is an inspiration to the federal government and the Obama administration to do the same thing nationwide," he said. The California Legislature "also [just] approved an additional $10 million in high-speed rail, which I think is another important thing, because I think there's no reason we in America should be traveling at the same speed as we did 100 years ago."
Obviously the "$10 million" figure is either a misquote or a flub from the Governator. Of far more significance was Chief of Staff-to-be Rahm Emanuel's comments on HSR and infrastructure spending:
In talking with reporters after the meeting, Obama's pick for chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, noted that some of the infrastructure projects under discuss involve advances in technology. "Some [governors] talked about what I would call the infrastructure for a 21st-century economy: medical [information technology], broadband. A lot of the infrastructure was around green technology, some on ... high-speed rail [and] mass transit," Mr. Emanuel said, according to a pool report.
Of course, Emanuel did not explicitly commit to helping fund HSR. But he clearly understands that it's high on the agenda and its inclusion in his list along with other goals Obama has already committed to is a very positive sign.