U.S. President Obama has been a long-time advocate of high speed rail in America. In May the Department of Transportation announced it was funding 22 inter-city rail projects including $300 million to move forward a high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco, over $400 million to reduce rail travel times by 30 minutes between Chicago and Detroit, and nearly $800 million to increase speeds from 135mph (220km/h) to 160mph (260km/h) in certain portions of the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. All of these developments are part of a larger plan outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated $8 billion for inter-city rail.
The folks over at America 2050 have taken things even further, sketching out a prioritisation plan for high speed rail as well as a detailed study. If Obama's high speed rail network is fully developed it would serve 80 percent of Americans and help to deal with traffic congestion and projected population increases of an estimated 70 million more Americans in the next 25 years.
At the moment, high speed rail is largely relegated to the Northeast Corridor of the US, however that $300 million in funding for rail between LA and San Francisco will most likely be the first purpose built high speed rail line in the US. The new line, with construction scheduled to start in September 2012, would operate at speeds of at least 150mph (240km/h). Phase I, between Los Angeles/Anaheim and San Francisco, is due to be operational by 2020 while Phase II, which would add extensions to Sacramento and San Diego, is due to be operational by 2026.
In many ways the US is trying to catch up with high speed rail developments in the rest of the world, with high speed rail a common feature of intercity travel in Europe, Japan, and now China. An interesting listing of global high speed rail trains is available here, take a look.