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Tallahassee, Feb. 12 – The Obama administration’s recent decision to award $1.25 billion in high speed rail funds to Florida is the first step towards a stronger, faster rail system that will reduce congestion, oil use, and carbon emissions, but there is much still to be done.
That was the main message in The Right Track, a new research report by the Florida Public Interest Research Group (Florida PIRG). The report comes at a point when some attempt to portray the recent investment in high speed rail infrastructure by the Obama administration as government waste.
“A national network of fast, frequent and dependable trains is a critical tool for reinventing the nation's economy,” said Brad Ashwell, Advocate for Florida PIRG.
The new report analyzes the potential of high speed rail in nine different regions, including Florida, and presents eleven public-interest recommendations for how to spend high speed rail investments in the future. According to data cited in the report, the completion of a national high-speed rail network would reduce car travel by 29 million trips and air travel by nearly 500,000 flights annually.
Last month, the Obama administration announced that 31 states will receive a portion of $8 billion in funding to build and plan for high speed rail under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. From Tampa he announced that Florida will receive $1.25 billion.
Florida has the potential have the first high speed rail route from Tampa to Orlando completed by 2015. While the building of a national system will definitely be a long-term process, the larger the public investment, the quicker the systems can get built.
“This project might one day be part of a national network of high speed rail on par with the bullet trains of Europe and Asia, but it is going to take a long-term commitment from all levels of government to plan and fund the system,” said Ashwell. “Without such a commitment, this recent momentum could be lost. We simply cannot afford a false start on high speed rail.”
Americans are hungry for access to more and better rail service. A 2009 survey found that if the cost and travel time were equal, 54 percent of Americans would prefer to travel to cities in their region by high-speed rail, with only 33 percent preferring car travel and 13 preferring air travel. Of Americans who had actually ridden high-speed rail, an overwhelming 82 percent preferred it to air travel.
The Florida PIRG report listed eleven key steps the United States should take to build an efficient and fast passenger rail network, with high-speed rail as a central component, to help address the nation’s transportation challenges in the 21st century.
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