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Obama's high-speed rail plan: Which states get the money?

President Obama announced 13 high-speed rail projects worth $8 billion Thursday. It is an 'important beginning,' advocates say, aimed at several key population centers.

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An Amtrak train arrives in St. Louis from Chicago Thursday. Train travel for Missouri residents will get faster after the Obama administration announced grants of $1.1 billion for development of a high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis.

Jeff Roberson/AP

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President Obama’s $8 billion plunge into 13 high-speed rail projects nationwide has the potential to become either his “Eisenhower moment” – moving the US into a new phase of transportation modernization – or just a dead end “drop in the bucket.”

The trip from St. Louis to Chicago, for example, could be chopped from 4.5 hours to about 3 hours and 40 minutes. But is that short enough to lessen the load on airports in the two cities and the highways in between?

“It’s a very important beginning," says Howard Learner, whose Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center has been fighting for high-speed rail for 15 years.

He heralds the plan as "a giant step forward in the transformation of our nation’s transportation system." But others note that, to build a national high-speed rail network, the cost would be at least $100 billion.

“It really is only a drop in the bucket of what the nation will need to get the kind of high-speed rail network it needs,” says Jack Schenendorf, who was vice chairman of the a blue-ribbon commission that studied the nation’s transportation needs in a 2008 study. “Obviously, for high speed rail, it is a good development. But it will take a lot more money to get these systems built out.”

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