Feb 15, 2011

High Speed Rail, Do We Have the Vision?

US President Barack Obama wants to build high-speed trains like France's famous TGV around the country to boost US competitiveness and create jobs.
An issue of national economic strategy for the White House, high-speed railways, which are under construction from Latin America to the Middle East and across Asia, are mired in political party rivalry over budgets in the United States.
Two newly elected Republican governors (Ohio and Wisconsin) in the past three months denied crucial federal funds to rail projects, all but killing them, after their Democratic predecessors backed the projects.
President Obama proposed to give 80 percent of Americans -- essentially all the largest urban areas -- access to rapid train transport in 25 years. "To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information -- from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet," he said in his January 25 State of the Union address.
Two weeks later, Vice President Joe Biden -- the administration's biggest rail fan -- spelled out the details of a $53 billion, six-year plan to support a number of rail projects, with $8 billion the first year.  The plan's idea of "high-speed" rail is modest: the main proposals mean boosting existing lines to 200 kilometers per hour (125 mph).
But Biden also proposed ground-up projects for "very high speed" trains like those in Europe, Japan and now China: trains running 350 kph (220 mph) or more, that would require laying entirely new tracks.
Routes are already roughly laid out: improving Amtrak's northeast corridor; linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in California; creating a Chicago-centered system in the industrial upper midwest; and tying Florida's major cities Tampa, Orlando and Miami.
We spend hundreds of billions on other forms of transport. High-speed railways offer the most mobility for money spent.


  1. I wonder if the President can articulate the importance of high speed rail any better than he did the health care plan. By not being direct or clear, he allowed the right to essentially hijack the issue and drown out his message.

    It has been a full generation if not more since the railway system mattered in this country. As long as the politcs obscure the benefits, the US will still lag behind the industrialized world when it comes to high speed transit. I predict commercial spaceflight to be normal before we see 'bullet trains' in use in America.

  2. Big oil and their puppets - the republican party will kill high-speed rail.

  3. This is too vital and ambitious to ever come to be. Big oil and republicans will kill it.

  4. This is like electric cars.
    I mean it was decades ago that people first talked about them being a viable alternative, and yet only recently that they've become fully available.
    By the time we get this together we will be so far behind the times there will be a new mode of transportation.

  5. If we hadn't lost our 'INdustrialization' to foreign powers, that might have driven the ship. Now it seems backward, to support the high speed rail, with nothing but people to move. The cumbersom system of moving good here in the states, the two & three level cars on the tracks, would stretch a train to 'miles long' on the bullet.(sorry if this is a duplicate comment)
    One of MY problems is I have never been a 'train' man and do not have a good perspective.

  6. If the GOP kills this, it will be just another way they stop us from keeping up with the rest of the world. This is basic. This is a no-brainer.

  7. I've really enjoyed high speed rail in other countries. The state of our railroad infrastructure in the U.S. is a joke. However, before supporting the current proposal, I'd like to know more about the bigger budget picture. Right now it feels like the Democrats and Republicans are playing a game of chicken regarding "entitlements." If it were ever to come to a situation where we need to scale back on Social Security, for example, but have given a green light to this rail project, I'd be pissed. The root of the problem is that we keep extending tax breaks and bonuses for billionares which makes an already bleak situation worse. I'd feel better about tackling the rail project after some of our other priorities are addressed.

  8. Thanks for the engineer's perspective. This issue is a good example of an idea that appeals to me at gut level, but I realize that the devil is in the details. I'll try to stay tuned.

  9. The problem with electric cars is the fact that what people say, and the facts, are not necessarily the same thing. Decades ago people said electric cars were viable. Today, we have electric cars, even though they are still not really viable.

  10. I think it's an interesting idea. One that needs to be explored further.


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