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High Speed Possibilities

Pete Springer/OPB

The Pacific Northwest is one of ten regions in the country competing for a chunk of $8 billion in federal stimulus money to put towards high speed rail projects. President Obama called attention to his support for this mode of transportation in his remarks on Thursday. In addition to the money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Obama wants to budget $5 billion to be spent over the next 5 years. If Oregon and Washington are able to snag some of the stimulus money designated for high-speed rail, it would go towards upgrading the Amtrak Cascades route.

“High-speed rail” refers to passenger trains that move at 150-250 miles per hour. Right now, the fastest train in the U.S. is the Acela Express that travels from Washington DC to Boston at speeds up to 150mph (though it’s usually more like 80 or 90mph because the Acela often has to make way for slower trains). Trains in other countries have long since left the U.S. in the dust. Japan’s Shinkkansen goes 186mph and Shanghai’s Maglev trains can zip up to 270mph.

Advocates of high-speed rail, including the president and Governor Ted Kulongski, say projects would create jobs and reduce traffic congestion. Skeptics scoff at the government’s $13 billion “down payment,” arguing that it’s not nearly enough to spark the changes Obama wants to achieve.

California voters approved more funding for that state’s high-speed rail project in November. High-speed rail isn’t expected to get up and running in the Sunshine State for another decade or two and will likely cost $45 billion in state, federal and private money.

Do you travel by train now for business or for pleasure? How often would you ride a high-speed train from Eugene to Vancouver, BC? What do find exhilarating or daunting about traveling by train at high speeds?


  • Chris Warner: Transportation advisor to Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski
  • Robert Poole: Director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation
  • Bill Bradbury: Former Oregon Secretary of State and an advocate for high-speed rail
  • Robert Jefferson: American broadcast journalist, who worked in Oregon before moving to Japan
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