Perdue's change of heart on high-speed rail is welcome news

Editor's note: Today's guest editorial is from the Savannah Morning News. Gov. Sonny Perdue returns from a meeting of governors in Washington as a new convert to the idea of high-speed rail. What's more, he's vowed to evangelize the governors of neighboring states -- who skipped the meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood -- on the merits of establishing a high-speed rail network. Perdue's change of heart is welcome news. For years, Perdue downplayed high-speed rail as too expensive and unlikely to draw enough riders to be self-supporting.
To be sure, President Obama's announcement of $8 billion in rail funding from stimulus funds, plus another $5 billion called for in the president's budget, might have been enough to turn the governor's head on the issue. (Although aides say Perdue's train travels in China and Spain also played a role.) The seductive nature of federal money does not, however, negate the wisdom of improving the nation's transportation infrastructure in a way that gives Americans more choices, helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lessens highway congestion and cuts illness-causing air pollution. While $13 billion isn't really enough to start construction on a high-speed rail system, it is enough to kick off the studies and planning necessary before construction can begin. The president's initial proposal calls for upgrading existing Amtrak routes, instead of laying all-new rail lines. That should hold down costs by reducing expenditures on right-of-way acquisition. While this idea risks maintaining Amtrak's brain-boggling routing system, word from Transportation Secretary LaHood is that the route plan for the new lines is still fluid: New stops could still be added. As for the issue of rider demand, the much faster trains should increase the appeal of rail travel. High-speed rail is often faster for regional travel than air lines, once airport hassles are figured in, along with travel to city centers from outlying airports. Those who doubt the viability of high-speed rail point out that it will take billions of dollars and decades of time to build a nationwide rail network. But the question is not whether we want to spend the money, but where we want to spend it. Should we continue spending those billions on foreign oil and protecting our interests in oil-rich Middle Eastern nations? Or should we spend those dollars at home? Investing those dollars in cleaner, less oil-thirsty technologies like high-speed rail gets an "amen."


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