Advocates say that high-speed rail would be best served by getting a dedicated source of revenue, such as from fuel tax or user surcharge to help pay for construction and maintenance of the system.
In pushing high-speed rail, Obama pointed to jobs being lost to China and to countries in Europe that can deliver workers more efficiently.
China, with the world's fastest growing economy, is also in the forefront in high-speed rail with service that will exceed 40 lines by 2012. Its trains can exceed 200 miles per hour.
Van Beek is not sure that keeping up with China or any other country will motivate the United States and its leaders to move full bore on high-speed rail.
“It worked in the space race, I'm not sure it works with this,” Van Beek said. China, for instance, is in a stronger financial position than the United States to venture into the expensive high-speed rail sector, he said.
In Europe, one motivating factor for high-speed rail is that gasoline prices exceed $7 per gallon, Van Beek said.
Todorovich said a case for high-speed rail in the U.S. can be made on population growth alone.
“The US will add 120 million more people by 2050 and we will require additional ways to move them around,” she said. “We can expand our highway system or choose alternative transportation such as high-speed rail.”