In a state-of-the-union speech uncharacteristically short on laundry list projects and policies, President Obama Tuesday night conspicuously singled out high-speed rail as “the most reliable way to move people,” saying that “within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.

“For some [high-speed rail] trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down,”said the president. “As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.”

The White House press office said the president will release more details on his desires for high-speed rail, transit and Amtrak improvements when he delivers his fiscal-year 2012 budget request to Congress in early February.

“Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do,” said the president in his state-of-the-union speech. “China is building faster trains … We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad.”

Many Republicans, however, have signaled they will oppose Obama’s high-speed rail spending proposals and also seek to reduce federal subsidies for Amtrak during congressional budget deliberations.

However, the chairman of the House Rail Subcommittee, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), indicated he is not opposed to more spending on high-speed rail and Amtrak, but has reservations. Shuster said:

“The Obama administration’s high-speed rail grants, rather than focusing on a small number of projects with the most potential for success, have been spread among numerous projects. Most of these have been grants to Amtrak, and nearly all are slower-speed rail projects.

“In addition, the administration has virtually ignored the one region of the United States where high-speed rail makes the most sense and would have the most national benefit — the Northeast Corridor between Washington, New York and Boston. Amtrak’s Acela currently serves this route, but at an average speed of only 83 mph.”

And Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the subcommittee’s parent, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, has voiced support for more high-speed rail funding in the Northeast Corridor and for a limited number of high-speed rail projects — but with a caveat: private sector investment in addition to federal funding.

WASHINGTON — President Obama has renominated two Republicans to key transportation posts after the Senate failed to take action on the nominations last year.

Nominated to the three-person National Mediation Board, for a term expiring July 1, 2013, is Republican Thomas M. Beck.

Nominated to the three-person Surface Transportation Board, for a term expiring Dec. 31, 2015, is Republican Ann D. Begeman.

Both must be confirmed by the Senate before taking office.

Both agencies have Democratic majorities and will continue under Democratic control so long as a Democrat is in the White House.

Beck was nominated to succeed Republican Elizabeth Dougherty on the NMB. Dougherty’s term expired July 1, but under NMB rules she may continue serving indefinitely until a successor is confirmed.

Since Oct. 2, Beck has been serving as a Senate-confirmed member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). The FLRA administers labor-management relations for non-Postal Service federal employees.

Previously, Beck was a partner in the law firm of Jones Day, practicing labor and employment law. He is a 1992 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School. Beck also is a part-time professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where he teaches courses on legislation and public policy.

The other two members of the NMB are Democrats — Chairman Harry Hoglander, who is serving his third term, and Linda Puchala, who was confirmed to her first term in May 2009.

Begeman was nominated to succeed Republican Chip Nottingham on the STB. Nottingham’s term expired Dec. 31, but under STB rules he may continue serving until a successor is confirmed, but no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

She currently is Republican staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee, but has been a long-time aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and served as a spokesperson for his unsuccessful run for president. Earlier, she was a legislative aide to Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.).

Begeman earned a degree in business from the University of South Dakota.

The other two members of the STB are Democrats — Chairman Dan Elliott, who is serving his first term; and Frank Mulvey, who is serving his second term.

The STB has regulatory authority over railroad mergers and labor protection for rail employees adversely affected by mergers, line sales and leases, and line abandonments. The agency also regulates railroad freight rates.

By International President Mike Futhey

Remember back in grade school, when we were given a page with four pictures on it — a dog, a cat, a horse and an apple — and told to identify which one of the four didn’t belong?

Imagine, instead, a page with these four pictures: a paycheck, a health-care insurance card, a union contract, and John McCain. Why doesn’t McCain belong in that series of photos?

  • McCain said in his presidential nomination acceptance speech that he would take his war on unions to the White House.
  • McCain calls labor unions “class warfare.”
  • McCain opposes “Buy America” provisions in legislation.
  • McCain voted in the Senate to gut rail and transit collective bargaining rights.
  • McCain voted against federal funding for mass transit.
  • McCain supports privatization of Social Security and Railroad Retirement, which means turning our retirement security over to Wall Street financiers — the same folks who have made such a mess of our economy.
  • McCain is in favor of opening the U.S. border to Mexican-operated buses and locomotives.
  • McCain supports dismantling of Medicare.
  • McCain represents the same Bush administration anti-union bias that has resulted in appointments of anti-union federal judges, regulators and arbitrators who, in word and deed, view labor unions as an evil to be eradicated.

Contrast the anti-union John McCain with the pro-labor Barack Obama.

  • Obama has a 100 percent UTU voting record.
  • Obama has pledged in writing to protect Railroad Retirement, Social Security and Medicare.
  • Obama consistently has supported public funding for mass transit and Amtrak.
  • Obama has spoken out in support of the UTU position on the commercial driver’s license problem facing bus operators.
  • Obama understands that this election is about Main Street vs. Wall Street, and Sen. Obama stands solidly on the side of Main Street.
  • Obama understands, as did Franklin Roosevelt, that antilabor policies are not the spirit by which our nation was founded, and that cheap wages mean low buying power, and low buying power means low standards of living.

As Mike Owens, a Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen general chairperson says, “We can’t keep complaining about agreements that are lousy and continue to vote for people who stick it to us.”

Transportation trades workers in Illinois, who have known Barack Obama for two decades, beginning with his election to the Illinois state senate, are so impressed with his voting record and support for organized labor and working families that they made a video in support of Obama.

The video may be viewed at by clicking on the Obama photo and scrolling to “Video: Obama in their own words.”

Barack Obama, through his Illinois state senate and U.S. Senate voting records, has earned the respect of working families in America.

In these difficult economic times for all working families, I urge you to join with me and go to the polls on Election Day and cast a ballot for the candidate who will put working families first – Barack Obama.

By International President Mike Futhey

The most successful military generals are those who care best for their troops, walk among their troops and listen intently to their ideas and concerns.

This week in Denver, Barack Obama, who consistently expresses his support for working families, as well as improved rail and transit service in America, reached out to a union-represented railroader to address the Democratic National Convention.

Separately, Joe Biden, before departing for Denver, visited the Wilmington, Del., train station to visit with Amtrak employees and passengers. According to the Wilmington newspaper, Sen. Biden even took note that the Amtrak conductor, who usually manages his morning commuter train to Washington, was not working that day.

For sure, the Obama/Biden ticket is one that walks the walk — not just talks the talk — on working family issues, as well as rail and transit issues. I know. I heard it first hand in Denver, while attending the Democratic National Convention.

Although I haven’t had opportunity yet to speak with Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden directly, I did meet in Denver with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee; former Vice President Walter Mondale; and Al Franken, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.

All five inquired of the UTU’s position on rail issues, and all five recalled instances where Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden had stood up for unionized rail, transit and bus workers, and how Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden vocally and emphatically supported more local, state, regional and federal funding for public transportation.

In Denver, on the convention’s opening night, it was a dream come true for Amtrak 20-year machinist Mike Fisher, who was given three minutes in the spotlight in the Pepsi Center to express his support for Sen. Obama.

Mr. Fisher, employed in Amtrak’s Beech Grove, Ind., shops, first met Sen. Obama in April, at an Indianapolis campaign stop, after which the senator and his wife, Michelle, visited the Fisher home and sat with the Fishers at their dining room table.

During that conversation, Mike Fisher expressed concern for his job, given the perennial attempts by conservatives in Congress to gut Amtrak. Mr. Fisher also mentioned to Sen. Obama his concern that a daughter-in-law had been denied reimbursement by a health insurer for surgery following a complicated pregnancy.

Sen. Obama invited Mr. Fisher to introduce him a few days later before an Indianapolis crowd of Obama supporters. Then came the invitation to address the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“After meeting him and talking to him and seeing how down-to-earth he was with us and understanding, he just sold me 100 percent,” Mr. Fisher said from the convention’s podium.

“[Back in April], as soon as Barack Obama came up on our front porch and shook my hand, he put me at ease,” Mr. Fisher told the convention delegates. “We went inside, and Barack put his elbows up on the kitchen table and listened. It was like talking with family. It became clear that they are regular people. Barack and Michelle grew up dealing with the same challenges most of us face. It’s pretty clear he can relate to working people and those who are struggling.”

Mr. Fisher’s talk to the Democratic National Convention followed one by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and preceded a talk by the president of the Chicago chapter of the Service Employees’ International Union.

Mr. Fisher received roaring applause for his final lines: “Barack Obama is the only person I trust to do the right thing for all of us. That’s why I’m here tonight and that’s why he’s my choice for president.”

I couldn’t agree more.