Obama Calls for Investment in Regional Intercity Rail


We noted yesterday that Barack Obama has promised to direct more federal funds to bike-ped infrastructure if elected. Now comes word that the Illinois Senator is going public with his support for a regional rail network linking midwestern cities, an idea he had floated quietly during the Democratic primary campaign.

In a major address on "American competitiveness," Obama pitched intercity rail as an antidote to faltering airlines. Via Matthew Iglesias:

We can invest in rail, so that cities like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis are connected by high-speed trains, and folks have alternatives to air travel.

To be sure, the speech — delivered in Flint, Michigan — was also heavy on promises to keep cars rolling off the assembly line. But the mention of rail and a proposal to fund a "National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank" (reminiscent of Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s stump speech) suggest that a President Obama may steer federal transportation funding, which has long given transit short shrift, in a different direction.

Photo of parlor car in the Illinois Central Railroad, which went defunct in 1999: Prairie Star / Flickr

  • Oh my gosh, am I dreaming? (pinch, pinch)

  • Kurt

    Could it be that our next President (a) won’t be a certified moron and (b) might have the courage to actually do something productive?

  • R2

    Could this possibly be true?
    (rubbing my eyes, possibly waking up from an 8-year nightmare)

  • Max Rockatansky

    Who is this strange man and how may I vote for him?

  • Where is rail infrastructure built? Cars, tracks, ties, etc…? A little Googling gives me this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rolling_stock_manufacturers#United_States

    A lot of them seem to be defunct, but generally they are in the traditional rust belt areas — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, etc. Of course there isn’t as much manufacturing involved in setting up rail, since the cars last longer and serve more people. But at least it’s something. Of course to get a good transportation system we also need the best technology, and I doubt the U.S. is at the forefront of rail innovation… but maybe catching up wouldn’t be too hard.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    The main thing I like about Obama is that he is our first genuinely urban candidate since Dukakis, except that I have been convinced, against my better judgment, that he can actually win. However, just which “swing state” will this program bring his way in the actual election? Likewise his resistance to the “gas tax holiday” bullshit. My favorite issue thing of the primary season. Ballsy, brainy. But which swing state does this bring his way? Ohio? Colorado? Virginia? And if its Virginia is this the same Virginia that elected a Governor over a $15/yr. automobile registration fee?

  • Das Yunker

    @Niccolo Macchiavelli #5

    It helps take the GOP reach states of Wisconsin, Oregon, and Washington out of contention, is a minor boost in Michigan where he’s already defending a lead, mobilizes the Democratic base in Southeastern Pennsylvania (defense) and Northern Virginia (offense), and makes a strong play for Missouri and Indiana.

    The electoral politics of intercity rail advocacy are actually pretty good, and it’s refreshing to see that Obama recognises this.

  • uSkyscraper

    Too bad there are no American manufacturers left to build and install the system. Still, I’m sure Bombardier will be pleased. With a little push they could link up Toronto and Montreal to this as well and really have nice little rail web going.

  • Das Yunker

    @uSkyscraper #7:

    If Kawasaki is assembling in Yonkers, Alstom in Hornell, and Rotem in Philadelphia, are they really all that foreign? (Yes, the parts are coming from overseas, but tell me with a straight face that an American company wouldn’t offshore those in a heartbeat.)

  • Sammy

    Federal money for a regional rail network, bike/ped infrastructure — what next? So Obama proves that he can make promises of the taxpayers money to satisfy the particular audience he is addressing. Is this supposed to impress me? Sounds like every other politician.

    Again, I ask is there no limit to what we want the imperial federal government to provide for us by first taking from us?

  • Sammy, the question is not, “federal money for this, or staying in ‘our’ pockets.” It’s “federal money for rail and bike/ped infrastructure, or for more bloated road projects.” Do you really think that if you oppose this particular federal spending initiative that the money won’t get spent? Don’t hold transit hostage to your libertarian agenda.

  • Sammy

    “Don’t hold transit hostage to your libertarian agenda.”

    Sorry, but you got to start somewhere. If I support some unconstitutional federal agenda because I feel it is better spent there than on some other unconstitutional federal agenda then our society merely continues to spin recklessly toward some socialist “utopia”. I can’t support that. Either our Constitution is valid and means something or it doesn’t. I can’t play it half way.

  • Sammy, if I understand you correctly, you are opposed to all federal transportation spending, including spending on highways? Or are you the kind of fair-weather libertarian who’s in favor of socialism for drivers and roads but not for transit and transit users?


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