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VARIOUS TEXTS: Obama may be a boon for high-speed rail

The president-elect is determined to slash greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependency on fossil fuel and restore our transportation infrastructure.

Supporters of California's high-speed rail plan got themselves a friend in the White House when Barack Obama was elected president Nov. 4.

The Obama administration is likely to look favorably on not only the development of new high-speed intercity rail corridors like the one California voters reauthorized with Proposition1 1A, but on Amtrak2 and other public transportation investment.

Obama seems determined to slash greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependency on fossil fuel, and restore the country's transportation infrastructure, in part through the creation of a proposed National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank.

Record gasoline prices and assorted3 problems with air travel have done much to push the U.S. toward the appropriate frame of mind. Meanwhile, the nation's passenger rail system -- once the target of much ridicule4 -- has started picking up passengers in record numbers. Revenues are hitting new highs.

Amtrak carried 14 percent more customers in fiscal 2008, which ended Sept. 30, than it did in fiscal 2007, the sixth straight year of increases. A record-setting 5.5 million passengers rode Amtrak's California routes.

But the American Public Transportation Association says 85 percent of rail systems, like Amtrak, fall short of the capacity to accommodate5 peak-hour demand. In other words, America will need more track and more trains, and soon.

Over the past quarter-century, a succession of Republican presidents, abetted6 by members of Congress from both parties, have tried to tear down Amtrak and end its annual handout7.

Their crystal balls8 failed them. Overreliance on foreign oil, deteriorating freeways and increasing evidence of health problems stemming from dirty air aren't issues that just showed up last week.

It's the same sort of thinking that got U.S. auto makers into trouble, saddling9 their stockholders, and, potentially, American taxpayers, with an underachieving industry.

High-speed rail has the potential, in terms of innovation, to be everything the U.S. auto industry has not been since the 1970s. Though its business plan is incomplete and its route not definitively set, the future of California high-speed rail is actually the brightest it has been.

How can that be? Here's how: Passenger rail is in a growth position in terms of consumer demand, supportive chief executives are in place (or soon will be) in Sacramento and Washington, and the push toward a green economy seems to be approaching the tipping point.

The state's High-Speed Rail Authority still needs to nail down the private and federal funding needed for the project, but Quentin Kopp, chairman of the agency, says he will head to Washington next month to discuss the situation with members of Congress. He's likely to find receptive ears.

The High Speed Rail Authority's budget plan, released shortly after the $10 billion bond measure was approved, says the rail system will haul 50 million people and generate a yearly $1.1 billion surplus by 2030. Benefits also include a reduction in air pollution and, in the intermediate term, the creation of an estimated 450,000 jobs.

Critics say the plan lacks the details necessary to lure venture capitalists. Those concerns have validity10; the authority must spell out more specifics, and soon. But investors will recognize that the weight of history is increasingly on the side of public transportation -- and high-speed, intercity transportation in particular.

553 words

Source: The Bakersfield Californian of Nov. 23, 2008


Annotations:
boon - Segen
1. Proposition - Antrag (pol.) 2. Amtrak - American railroad system like the German 'Deutsche Bahn'
3. assorted - einhergehend mit
4. ridicule - Spott
5. to accommodate - für etwas Platz bieten
6. to abet - unterstützen
7. handout - Förderung
8. crystal balls - fig. Vorhersagen
9. to saddle sb with sth - jdm. etwas aufbürden
10. validity - Berechtigung


Assignments:
1. Why do supporters of a more efficient public transport system pin their hopes on the future president Obama?
2. From what the editorial says, What do rail systems like Amtrak look like in California (and most of the US)?
3. What are the reasons why California's public transport system has to develop more extensively and faster than in the past?
4. Write a letter to the supporters of California's high-speed rail plans and tell them about Germany's public transport system.
5. From what you know about Americans, their dependency on cars, and the American auto industry, do you think that change towards public transport can be achieved soon? Substantiate your opinion.



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