Is the U.S. Ready for High-Speed Rail?

I mentioned a few weeks ago that one group sees the future of travel belonging to rail, not airlines. In their vision, freight and passengers will use trains instead of planes but as I mentioned in that post, much of what they say may be true for everywhere except in America. But is that changing?

While nothing more than talk at the moment, there are many high speed rail projects under consideration. For years, Amtrak has talked about a high-speed High-Speed Railoption along the East Coast. In California, they have long talked about a service like this between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Florida, it has been discussed for years having a high-speed rail service that operates between Tampa, Orlando, and Miami. Oh, how I’d love this! Now comes another plan, this time linking Detroit to Chicago. You can read about the details of this plan here.

All of these proposals have a few things in common. First, they present a rosy picture of operations. All of them can cut travel time down considerably. But on the downside, each study must include environmental, political, and financial elements. No doubt their projected costs will be on the low side so there will be cost overruns. Then they must decide how much risk will be assumed by the taxpayers and how much will go to bankruptcy protected investors. And eventually they will have to decide on ticket prices.

I admit there are a few times that I have flown when I could have been riding a train instead. Routes that come to mind are the Eastern corridor shuttles of DC-NY and NY-Boston. I have also flown the NY-Chicago shuttle but as far as I know, there are no plans to link those cities by high-speed rail.

But if true high-speed trains really were an option, I would seriously consider that over flying. There could easily be time savings since most stations are near the center of cities, unlike most modern airports. Train seats are wider and more comfortable than what we have on planes. I would imagine seats also would have power connectors and wouldn’t be surprised to see Wi-Fi included in the ticket price. Bonus points to the trains if they include a quiet car.

Now if we could just get these planners to begin talking about their frequent rider programs…


  1. At least this is what I would consider true high-speed rail. There was a proposal in my area a couple of years back for a “high-speed” rail but the top speed was 70 mph with the average more like 60 mph. At the cost it takes to build railway, why even bother with anything less than 100 mph? People are still going to fly or drive when it’s not any faster than driving.

  2. More American naysayers need to travel abroad and experience high speed rail. Ride it once and you will be in favor of spending the billions required to make it reality. In Italy, high speed rail is so popular they now have Privately run Italo trains competing with the government run Freccarosa high speed trains.

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