Good news for fans of high-speed rail. According to Transportation for America, the final economic stimulus bill approved by the US Congress includes $8.4 billion for mass transit, $1.3 billion for Amtrak, and a whopping (and unexpected) $8 billion for the nation's woefully under-developed high-speed rail system. Those are funds that weren't present in either the original House or Senate bills, so it's a big improvement, and something of a surprise. What's more, President Obama himself evidently weighed in to get those funds included, so it looks like it's going to be a priority for his administration.
Now, hopefully, the US will make some progress in developing its ten designated high-speed rail corridors:
Of these ten corridors, only the northeast corridor (aka, the 'Acela') is already up and running. (In California, voters last year approved a $10 billion dollar bond to develop their high-speed rail service, so that combined with some federal funds ought to make the California corridor particularly ripe for progress.)
By contrast, here's Europe's HSR system:
The colored sections indicate service of 200-350 km/hr. (By dreary contrast, the average speed of the Acela is 140 km/hr.) And Japan, of course, has long been a pioneer in high-speed rail.
Meanwhile, look what China is doing:
In 2007, they opened 6,000 km of high-speed rail all at once, instantly making it the most extensive system in the world - larger, even, than all of Europe's networks combined. Seen in this light, the US system is decades behind international standards. But hopefully the US just took a big step towards catching up.