WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama outlined his plan for long overdue high-speed rail on Thursday that would rival air travel, create jobs and help curb the U.S. transportation system's appetite for oil.
My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America, Obama said in announcing the first steps of an initiative that will tap $8 billion in economic stimulus money through 2012.
In promoting rail, Obama cited high-speed systems in place or under development in Japan, Spain, France and China.
The first grants for high-speed projects and upgrades to existing service could be awarded this summer. High-speed development, according to government and outside experts, will cost substantially more over many years.
The current effort focuses on federal and state dollars but private investment could play a key role in accelerating projects, government and rail proponents say.
The administration has identified 10 potential corridors, including proposals in California, the Gulf Coast, the Midwest and the Northeast.
Obama envisions a network of short and longer-haul corridors of up to 600 miles plied by trains traveling up to 150 miles per hour.
Acela service operated by Amtrak, the nation's only national passenger rail line, only reaches 150 mph over a short stretch in New England.
States would play a crucial role in high-speed development as would freight railroads, which own much of the U.S. rail infrastructure.
Rail development has long been a politically charged issue due to expense and service to less populated states. Federal investments in highway and air traffic infrastructure and operations far outpace subsidies for Amtrak.