WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama called Thursday for the country to move swiftly to a system of high-speed rail travel, saying it will relieve congestion, help clean the air and save on energy.
Obama said the country cannot afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. He said he understands it necessarily will be "a long-term project" but said the time to start is now.
The president allocated $8 billion in the enormous $787 billion economic stimulus spending package for a start on establishing high-speed rail corridors nationwide.
"This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It's happening now. The problem is, it's happening elsewhere," Obama said.
He cited superior high-speed rail travel in countries like China, Japan, France and Spain.
About six proposed routes with federal approval for high-speed rail stand a good chance of getting some of the award, including North Carolina, which could have a route from Charlotte to Washington, D.C.
The route is part of a larger one that would start in Washington, D.C., run through Richmond, Va., Raleigh, Charlotte and then continue on through Georgia with stops in Atlanta, Macon, Columbia and Savannah and then ending in Jacksonville, Fla..
If funding is made available, the Charlotte-to-D.C. route could be completed sometime between 2015 and 2020. It is expected to cost approximately $2.5 billion to $4.5 billion.
The $8 billion will go to high-speed rail development as well as a parallel effort to improve rail service along existing lines - upgrades that would allow faster train travel.
The White House said funding will move into the rail system through three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved and only in need of funding, thus providing jobs in the short term.
The second and third channels would focus on high-speed rail planning and then a commitment to help in the execution of those plans far into the future when the stimulus funds are no longer available.
The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration says the term "high-speed rail" applies to trains traveling more than 90 mph.
Top speeds from Charlotte to Raleigh will reach 90 mph with an estimated travel time of 2 to 3 hours. A one-way ticket is expected to cost $30 to $40.