High Speed Rail - could it really happen?

Planetizen has a thought-provoking piece on one of the most intriguing parts of the Stimulus package: High Speed Rail-In-America

While that author sounds ready to buy his ticket, and I agree the vision sounds attractive, he also points out some major hurdles that remain. Namely:

(1) $8 billion is barely a down payment on a system that truly will rival what exists in Europe. Could anything that expensive really ever become reality? Could anything less (e.g. 110 mph trains running on existing corridors - or even existing tracks?) attract enough riders to ease our overdependence on the current highway and airport system?

(2) This country has not only not invested in rail as a passenger mode, but has fundamentally re-shaped its urban development patterns to such an extent that there is little or no existing rail infrastructure, except possibly for the Northeast US, that could support a national High Speed Rail system.

To make this $8 billion pay off, it seems a tough decision has to be made. Does the country invest in one or two specific state-of-the-art lines that may lead to a "build-it-and-they-will-come" sensation that seemed to occur with recent LRT openings, or does it spread the money to simply speed up the current Amtrak system? If it is the former, what is the justification for using National Stimulus money to benefit one or two regions? If it is the latter, would anyone notice?

President Obama promised an administration that would not be afraid to make "the tough decisions." Transportation planners should all find the way this plays out to be quite fascinating!

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs