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Commentary: High-speed rail should be in Obama's plans

This editorial appeared in The Fresno Bee.

President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders will be putting together a stimulus package heavy on public works as a means to pull the nation out of the current economic crisis. We urge them to keep high-speed rail in those plans.

Californians took a giant step forward with the passage of Proposition 1A on Nov. 4, authorizing $9 billion to start construction of an 800-mile high-speed system for the state. But the high-speed rail proposal always depended on substantial federal funding, as well as investment from the private sector.

There's good news on the federal funding front. Sens. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced a bill on Nov. 19 aimed at helping California and states along the East Coast build such systems. It would include $10 billion over 10 years to fund improvements in the Northeast and California. It's not enough to pay for the entire federal share of California's anticipated costs, but it's a great start.

The bill is sponsored by several other senators from both parties, reflecting the growing congressional consensus in favor of building high-speed rail systems in the U.S., and for improving passenger rail and transit of all sorts.

"At a time when our economy desperately needs a jump start, we need an effective national investment that puts Americans back to work," Kerry said. "A first-rate rail system would protect our environment, save families time and money, reduce our dependency on foreign oil and help get our economy moving again."

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fresno Bee.