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US stimulus cash goes to rail network

UNITED States President Barack Obama called yesterday for the country to move swiftly to a system of high-speed rail travel, saying it will relieve congestion, help clean the air and save energy.

Obama said the US cannot afford not to invest in a major upgrade to rail travel. He said he understands it will be "a long-term project" but said the time to start is now.

The president allocated US$8 billion in the enormous US$787 billion economic stimulus package to start establishing high-speed rail corridors across the US.

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 such as Japan, France, Spain and China.

The rail upgrades are critically needed, Obama said, because US highways and airways "are clogged with traffic."

The money will go not only to high-speed rail development but also to a parallel effort to improve rail services along existing lines ?? upgrades that would allow faster train travel.

The White House said funding will move into the rail system through three channels, first to upgrade projects already approved that are still 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 the execution of those plans far into the future, long after the stimulus funds are used up.

US Transportation Department officials say about six proposed routes with federal approval for high-speed rail stand a good chance of getting some of the US$8 billion award. The spurs include parts of Texas, Florida, the Chicago region, and southeast routes through North Carolina and Louisiana.


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