Things to think about;
** Electrified rail can be as much as 20X more efficient than diesel trucks in transporting freight per mile.
** Electrified rail is 2.5-3X more efficient that diesel powered trains in high altitude applications.
** Power from remote renewable wind/solar stations can be transported to population centers via the very same rail that would bring your flat screen TVs from China to your doorstep.
** Reducing traffic on the roads. Trucks cause 30X more damage to the highways than passenger cars and are "subsidized" an estimated 30 to 40 Billion annually in road repairs from road use fees they DO NOT pay. Guessing its not too hard to figure who does take up the slack?
That last point is more than enough to justify creating a national electrified rail system. The biggest challenge for any country that spans 3000 miles including the roughly 1700 miles crossing the Western states from the coast to major shipping hubs in the midwest is the distances involved. Most of this land is owned by the federal government. It would be a no brainer to set up wind and solar farms along the more desolate rail lines that would create enough power to operate the rail and have enough to help with power needs in the populated areas.
The trucking industry burns thru 700 million barrels of refined diesel annually hauling roughly 58% of the freight with rail carrying 28% and water covering the remainder. Trucking dominated freight hauling under 500 miles. Electrified Rail can reduce the truck's role to one way trips under 100 miles, this could save up to 300 million barrels. From http://oilfreetransport.blogspot.com; with minimal impact to the electrical grid.
The total electrical demand to carry most of today’s trucking and all of the current rail freight is just over 1% of total US electrical demand. This is an amount that we can easily conserve. The United States can create an oil independent transportation system for people and cargo that runs on conservation.
What I have not touched on it the overall impact to our economy. This project would create jobs, investment into the infrastructure of the US, and create new avenues to encourage personal travel by rail. Wouldn't it be great to have your LEAF loaded onto an electrified rail train. Haul it to the midwest to be unloaded to vacation 1700 miles from home?
Of course, there is the money aspect. Its estimated that it would take 400-500 Billion and 10-15 years just to upgrade the most used 42,000 miles of rail (mostly in the East) but that includes cost of upgrading existing power plants to handle the additional demand required. In the West where there is plenty of space for renewable power options, rails would need to be added. But advancements are being made that would eliminate the high cost of integrating disparate power supplies, incompatible locomotives, etc.