It's, um, not so different from the old one: You'll note, however, that that sissy green shade on the old map has been replaced by a dynamic crimson; and, too, there are wavy ghost-lines to give a sense of integration to the plan. Change we can believe in!
But I kid. There's nothing wrong with sticking to the plan for high-speed rail that the government has nominally had since the nineties. The only problem is that it hasn't been funded. But thanks to a personal intervention by Obama, $8 billion got worked into the stimulus bill earlier this year; and his budget includes another $1 billion per annum to develop the system. Here's some of what Obama had to say about the plan on Thursday:
What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.I just have a couple of quibbles with the plan. One: connect Pittsburgh and Cleveland! They're only 130 miles apart by freeway, a distance that could conceivably make for a reasonable commute by high-speed rail. And it's a part of the country that could definitely use the short-term economic stimulus of building the line as well as the long-term benefit of increasing economic integration. Furthermore, such a line would connect the Midwest's Chicago Hub Network with the Northeast Corridor, and then we'd have something actually approaching a continental HSR system.
Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here.
In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here.
There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.
Also: Houston is in Texas! Richard Florida may believe in some mythical urban mega-region on the western Gulf Coast that stretches from Pensacola to Brownsville. But I am here to tell you: Houston (not to mention Corpus Christi and Brownsville-McAllen) is far more integrated - economically, geographically, politically - with Austin and Dallas than it is with New Orleans. My car recently broke down in the town of Brenham, TX and I had occasion to get into a conversation with the local tow truck driver about patterns of megaregional integration in that part of the state (as one does with tow truck drivers). Specifically, he noted that the town had been growing in recent decades, and the reason was that people were finding they could commute from there to both Houston and Austin. I assure you there is no similarly oriented town between Houston and New Orleans. All of which is to say that - pace The Grateful Dead - Houston is not too close to New Orleans; it is close to the I-35 corridor megaregion of San Antonio-Austin-Dallas. The high-speed rail plan should reflect that reality.
UPDATE: Just saw that Cartophilia covered this as well. He's also got details and a map for the rail plan centered on Ohio. The high population densities, pre-existing infrastructure, and need for economic investment really make the Pittsbugh-Cleveland-Cincinnat-Detroit-Chicago area the best place to develop high-speed rail after the Northeast Corridor.