All talk no track: Where is high-speed rail in the U.S.?

Published on August 2nd, 2010 | by

The Obama Administration placed an emphasis on building high-speed and intercity passenger rail to connect communities and economic centers across the country, but will the strategic plan work in the United States?

Energy Security, Sustainability, Green Jobs ; these are just a few of the benefits of an intercity highspeed rail according to The U.S. High Speed Rail Association.  But do we have all the facts?  In her article, “High-Speed Rail: Great for Europe, but Less So for the U.S.?”, Politics Daily Correspondent Delia Lloyd offers some sobering facts to the potential for high speed rail in the United States.

(1)  Even if we could double intercity passenger rail patronage within the first year, this would barely equal 2 percent of commercial air-traffic volume.

(2) What the administration has in mind would accommodate train speeds of 110 miles per hour, not the 150 mph or more commonly used in Europe and Asia.

(3) While the environmental and mortality benefits of rail are real, the magnitude of the social benefits is quite small relative to the cost.

But however difficult laying the track to high-speed rail in the U.S. might be, I have to agree with Chris Matthews‘ suggestion in his post “High Speed Rail in America: Hope We Can Believe in”.

“Stop listening to Europe, stop listening to the conservatives, do what has worked in the past… We need production for this country now. We need to build rapid rail to catch up to those allies from World War Two. France has the TGV. China is building its rapid rail system. It’s time we joined the movement. We need to go back to the future and become a country that builds things. It’ll create jobs. It’ll catch us up to the rest of the world. It’ll cut our reliance on oil. It’ll give us hope you can believe in.”

Image Credit:  Whitehouse.gov under Creative Commons license.


About the Author

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.
  • Mike

    YES! I take amtrak a lot and I love the idea of train travel and it can be quie nice, but a bad trip can really be bad! Rude conductor's, late trains, and CSX blocking every rail!!!!! At least in the east. We can retool so many facroties in Detroit and Pittsburgh to build infrastructure, Oil Companies can invest and profit (you know they know how to turn a profit). America is ROme, so far ahead and so great in many ways, yet so backwards as well. It's not unpatriotic or weak to look at good ideas from other countries. In fact it is patriotic to improve the nation however we can, and it is STRENGTH to use a good idea and make it better.

  • Mike

    YES! I take amtrak a lot and I love the idea of train travel and it can be quie nice, but a bad trip can really be bad! Rude conductor's, late trains, and CSX blocking every rail!!!!! At least in the east. We can retool so many facroties in Detroit and Pittsburgh to build infrastructure, Oil Companies can invest and profit (you know they know how to turn a profit). America is ROme, so far ahead and so great in many ways, yet so backwards as well. It's not unpatriotic or weak to look at good ideas from other countries. In fact it is patriotic to improve the nation however we can, and it is STRENGTH to use a good idea and make it better.

    • Hey Mike, WHY do we have to look to OTHER countries, when we have the next QUANTUM LEAP in transportation ready, willing and able right here in the USA?

      et3 is it! Look at http://www.et3.com and if you can get past the outdated, myopic view of steel wheels on steel rails, and just for once, think outside the box the proponents of rail want you in, you will see that evacuated tube IS the future of high speed transportation for this planet..The Chinese have seen it, and so have the South Koreans..we in America have turned a blind eye..the old rail paradigm does not want you to see the future..I wonder why?

  • James

    Love the train, but am not confident that high speed rail is up to the task of high speed American business.

    • What makes you say that? Highspeed rail is much faster than cars, and much easier for regional travel than airport hassle…

      • James

        Well, I'm a huge train advocate; but look at the proposed map above for rail service, and compare that to an air traffic map or a major highway map covering the same area. I haven't seen any proposed schedules or costs for the rail travel, but I assume whoever takes over admininstration of that project will not be retooling any existing infrastructure; I can't imagine traveling over, thru, or around the hills of Pennsylvania at +100mph.

  • James

    Love the train, but am not confident that high speed rail is up to the task of high speed American business.

    • What makes you say that? Highspeed rail is much faster than cars, and much easier for regional travel than airport hassle…

      • James

        Well, I'm a huge train advocate; but look at the proposed map above for rail service, and compare that to an air traffic map or a major highway map covering the same area. I haven't seen any proposed schedules or costs for the rail travel, but I assume whoever takes over admininstration of that project will not be retooling any existing infrastructure; I can't imagine traveling over, thru, or around the hills of Pennsylvania at +100mph.