Should the divided Congress approve Obama's budget, the initial rail spending would focus on developing or improving routes to allow travel up to 241km/h, and connecting existing rail lines with new projects. Republicans, who favour spending cuts and are likely to oppose the proposals, control the House of Representatives, while Democrats hold a small majority of Senate seats.
Speaking yesterday at Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, vice president Joe Biden outlined three channels of development.
Core Express will develop electric trains operating between 200km/h and 400km/h, running on dedicated passenger lines.
Regional will develop 145km/h to 200km/h services, as an incremental step towards true high-speed services

Emerging will develop reliable train services in regions that are underserved, increasing access to the larger national inter-city passenger rail network.

All high-speed and inter-city rail programmes will be merged into two new accounts to simplify the federal funding application process, with both receiving $US 4 billion of funding in the first year. These funds will be used to cover network development such as new infrastructure construction as well renewal and maintenance, with the core projects expected to be developed through public-private partnerships involving the Department of Transportation, individual states, freight railways and other private-sector companies.

Critics of the president say the current US high-speed initiative is spread too thin across too many projects, while Mr John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation committee, criticised the $US 10.5 billion of first round grants released last year for focusing on marginal projects and not the heavily-congested northeast corridor.

Supporters say that choosing a single high-speed project, regardless of location, would be a huge political gamble, allowing rail opponents to focus relentlessly on a single target.

Yesterday's proposal received the backing of US Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mr Thomas Donohue, AFL-CIO union president Mr Richard Trumpka, as well as the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

"It is extremely heartening that the White House has the clarity of vision to propose this groundbreaking programme in the face of recent narrowly-based attacks on high-speed rail in the US," says NARP president Mr Ross Capon. "If we are to develop a modern transport system that gives Americans the travel choices they need and to cut our reliance on foreign oil, we need our leaders to show this steadfast determination to get the job done."