WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama announced Thursday that $8 billion has been awarded to develop the first nationwide high-speed rail project. “There’s no reason why Europe or China should have the fastest trains when we can build them right here in America,” Obama said a day before the announcement.
Obama made the announcement during a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida in the first of a series of trips aimed at promoting his economic plan. The speech trails Obama’s State of the Union on Wednesday, when he said that jobs “must be our number one focus for 2010.”
The Recovery Act had designated $13 billion over five years to improve passenger rail, which includes the development of high-speed rail. The unveiling of contracts means the construction projects will now get underway.
States had to compete for the money, with the government receiving $55 billion worth of proposals for the initial $8 billion handout.
The $8 billion is just a down payment, with more money expected for the project that spans 31 states in developing 13 new high-speed rail corridors.
Apart from the jobs involved in building the rail lines, the Department of Transportation said in a press release that the project will spur the economy supplying fast and efficient travel between cities.
The Obama administration has secured agreements with more than 30 rail manufacturers -both foreign and domestic – that they would expand their base of operations in the United States if awarded a contract, an agreement designed to ensure that the jobs are created in the United States.
Major rail projects include a California line expected to send 220 mile-per-hour trains running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which is receiving $2.25 billion.
California voters have already voted to pay $9 billion towards ultimately building a high-speed rail line that runs from Sacramento to San Diego.
Another project in Florida is getting $1.25 billion to run 168 mile-per-hour trains between Tampa and Orlando, with plans for the line to eventually reach Miami.
In 2008, 28 million people rode on Amtrak, breaking the ridership record for the sixth time in a row.
Rail is one of the cleanest and most efficient means of transportation. It is 17 percent more efficient than air travel, and 21 percent more efficient than car travel.
But developing high-speed rail is notoriously expensive, and lawmakers have called for the need to increase investment above the $13 billion from the stimulus package.