High-speed train.The Obama administration has big plans to create a “world-class passenger rail system” across the country, the president announced this morning.

“What we need … is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” said Obama. “A system that reduces travel times and increases mobility. A system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity. A system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

Vice President Joe Biden — a rail enthusiast — joined Obama in making the announcement. “With high-speed rail system, we’re going to be able to pull people off the road, lowering our dependence on foreign oil, lowering the bill for our gas in our gas tanks,” Biden said. “We’re going to loosen the congestion that also has great impact on productivity, I might add, the people sitting at stop lights right now in overcrowded streets and cities. We’re also going to deal with the suffocation that’s taking place in our major metropolitan areas as a consequence of that congestion. And we’re going to significantly lessen the damage to our planet. This is a giant environmental down payment.”

The plan calls for development of a new “efficient, high-speed passenger rail network in 100-600 mile corridors.” It would be paid for with the $8 billion for rail that was included in the economic-stimulus package, as well as the $1 billion per year over the next five years that the administration requested in its budget. These funds would be a “down payment,” according to the White House. The admin expects more funds to be made available through the reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs later this year.

The administration has identified 10 potential corridors for high-speed rail (also see the map below):

  • Pacific Northwest
  • California
  • South Central
  • Gulf Coast
  • Chicago area
  • Florida
  • Southeast
  • Pennsylvania
  • New York state
  • Northern New England

The admin also says there are opportunities to expand service in the Northeast Corridor, from Washington to Boston — currently the only place in the country where high-speed rail is up and running.

“All in all, we’re going to make travel in this country leaner and a whole lot cleaner,” Biden said. “And as we look to the future, we’re going to ensure that we can travel through the system that is sound, secure, and able to handle full-speed-ahead progress for this new economy.”

Map of proposed rail corridors.