Pushing freight rail makes much more sense than passenger rail.
This excellent study outlines a whole bunch of reasons to switch to rail that make everyone happy, including automobile drivers:
The savings from reduced highway maintenance and expansion due to fewer trucks can pay for much, or all, of the required rail investment. Trucks and weather are the two main causes of highway maintenance; damage to highways is proportional to the 4th power of the axle weight. One heavy truck does more damage than 5,000 compact cars, and pays far, far less in fuel taxes per mile than those 5,000 cars combined.
The author, Alan Drake, argues for electrification of rail as a huge plus for basically every reason - cost, energy efficiency, carbon emissions, and ease of integration with other energy infrastructures. Freight rail is stressed first, rather than passenger service. I've read other studies that also claim that passenger autos more than pay for the damage they do to highways in fuel taxes. Local roads? Nope - they are subsidized by local taxes.
Also on long-distance freight vs. passenger service from the study linked above:
The demand for express freight increases with distance while the demand for passenger rail service begins to drop off after 300 miles and is generally a small modal share for trips over 500 miles within the EU and Japan. The energy efficiency of passenger rail also drops significantly when trips are long enough to require rolling hotel beds and restaurants.
Regional passenger rail might make sense for dense populations as has been suggested, but as long as airplanes can be flown, it will be hard to get all those flyover cities connected.
Ned wins the cost efficiency argument. Since we have finite dollars to spend (even with whatever arbitrarily high tax rate), we must make infrastructure choices based on priorities. Instead of a crusade for passenger rail (which looks like an anti-car crusade to poorly-informed outsiders), we should focus efforts on a better rail freight system, since this is more politically palatable and is objectively a better investment on a per-dollar or per-BTU basis.