"We can't trust the government to pick winners and losers," Rasmussen said. "... Remember all of the businesses and industry that won't have capital available because some politician took it away through higher taxes or borrowing and spent it on a politically favored group like high-speed rail."
Work on the Midwest program spreading out from Chicago already has sped trains up to 110 mph on at least some segments of the routes to Detroit and St. Louis. For now, those trains must share track with freight traffic, but studies have looked into the possibility of building a dedicated track that would allow for faster passenger service.
There are also projects on the East and West coasts, including a planned $68 billion high-speed rail system to link Northern and Southern California by trains traveling up to 220 mph.
Obama and many federal and state transportation officials say the projects will reduce pollution, lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create jobs. In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn mentioned the Chicago-St. Louis route in his State of the State address this past week and said it has delivered thousands of jobs.
Indeed, Amtrak passengers on that line can look out the window and see workers who have been upgrading track, signals and crossings.
Also highly visible are the rail car makers awarded contracts, including the U.S. subsidiary of Nippon-Sharyo, the maker of Japan's bullet trains. Its plant in Rochelle, Ill., will build 130 double-decker rail cars for high-speed projects in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and California.
Less obvious, though, is the business generated for those supply-chain companies identified in the policy center's report. The businesses it found are located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.
They include family-owned firms with humble beginnings like Bo-Mar Industries, a metal fabrication shop in Indianapolis whose founder started it in 1991 in his father's barn. Today, Bo-Mar's work includes cutting sheet metal with lasers and high-pressure water jets. Its rail industry product line includes sleeper car bunks, interior lighting, battery boxes, stainless steel kitchens and bicycle racks.