Improving Our Pokey Rail Network.

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(Flickr/John Curnow)

You might not remember, but one of the nice elements of the stimulus bill that passed last year was $8 billion in funds to develop high speed rail, something a lot of people have been waiting for. The Department of Transportation has been evaluating proposals from different states, and according to the Wall Street Journal, all signs point to Florida getting the first bunch of money. Down in the Sunshine State, they're guessing that's the reason President Obama is going to Tampa on Thursday, to make the big announcement.

And it's about time -- after all, our trains are pathetically slow compared to what they have in Europe and Asia. Take a look at this chart, which I produced using a table in this report from the Progressive Policy Institute:

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And that doesn't count the next generation of France's TGV, which has been tested at a cheek-inflating 357 miles per hour.

Plainly, when it comes to train speeds, we suck. Or as a Republican would say, "We have the best rail system in the world!" Really bringing it up to speed (so to speak) -- with high speed lines going up the eastern seaboard, in the Midwest, in California, and in Florida -- could cost $200 billion. It would be a great investment, with thousands of new jobs, all kinds of improved efficiencies for business, energy savings, and economic development in areas that were previously isolated. But like all investments, it requires some long-term vision and a willingness to shell out money up front, neither of which are in particularly good supply at the moment. But this is a start.

-- Paul Waldman

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