A high-speed rail link connecting the Twin Cities to Chicago came a step closer to reality Thursday as President Obama released a strategic plan to jump-start rail lines throughout the country.
Appearing with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Obama said the country cannot afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. He said he understands it necessarily will be "a long-term project" but said the time to start is now.
The president allocated $8 billion in the enormous $787 billion economic stimulus spending package for a start on establishing high-speed rail corridors nationwide.
Obama said, "This is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It's happening now. The problem is, it's happening elsewhere." He cited superior high-speed rail travel in countries like China, Japan, France and Spain.
The White House said funding will move into the rail system through three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved and only in need of funding, thus providing jobs in the short term. The second and third would focus on high-speed rail planning and then a commitment to help in the execution of those plans far into the future when the stimulus funds are no longer available.
The Chicago-St. Paul line is part of the Chicago Hub Network, one of ten corridors designated to receive funding in the plan. In addition to the Twin Cities, the Chicago network would include service to Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland, among other cities.
In a news release, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman applauded the plan.
"Investing in our transportation infrastructure is essential to rebuilding our national economy," he said. "A 21st century high speed rail line between Chicago and Saint Paul will lay the groundwork for new economic development throughout the Midwest."