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US high-speed rail to the rescue

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Consider Asia: While America fumbles, China has seen the light. It plans to build 42 high-speed rail lines across 13,000 kilometers (some 8,000 miles) in the next three years. The Chinese Railway Ministry says that rail can transport 160 million people per year compared with 80 million for a four-lane highway.

In addition to the central goal of decreasing oil use and pollution, China seeks to bolster its economy with investment in rail and also to satisfy the demands for mobility of its growing middle class.

For America, as fewer people opt for gas-guzzling air or car travel, a high-speed rail system would hit US oil dependence right where it counts: in the gas tank.

High-speed rail is most economical in areas of high population density. In August 2009, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman found that America has a "bigger potential market for fast rail than any European country."

Meanwhile, the US Department of Transportation has identified 11 high-speed corridors, including Los Angeles to San Francisco. And Congress has wisely dedicated $8 billion to pay for high-speed rail projects across the country as part of last year's stimulus package.

A few states such as Florida are actively considering the viability of high-speed rail. Yet California is one of the few states that have made noticeable strides toward rail. Indeed, in November 2008, California voters OK'd $10 billion in funding for a rail system linking L.A. and San Francisco. This system will include trains capable of traveling 220 miles per hour, cutting travel time from about six hours via Route I-5 to just 2-1/2 hours.

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