Where Do You Want High Speed Rail?

The President seems to be pushing hard for high speed rail. His budget which he’ll send over to Congress next week (make sure to tune in Tuesday Feb 15 morning for the GovLoop Live Chat about it) has 8 billion set aside for high speed rail.Total it’s said that we are dumping 53 billion into rail over the next 6 years.

Sounds good right? Well yeah… if it actually goes to high speed rail. According to an article in the Washington Post the last time Obama pushed for high speed rail most of the money actually went to low speed trains.

Investing more in high-speed rail will keep U.S. competitive, White House says

The White House push for high-speed rail construction was launched with $8 billion in stimulus act funding. Later LaHood added $2.5 billion to boost the effort in 23 states. California has received the bulk of the awards – about $3 billion total.

Virginia received $45.4 million in the last round of funding to help pay for studies and preliminary engineering to improve service between Richmond and Washington. But more than half that money went for trains that travel much slower than the 150 to 220 mph common in Europe and Japan.

So here’s my questions.

1) Is it worth it?

2) Assuming they do build high speed rail name 2 routes that you would use

3) How fast would a train have to go to make you consider not driving or flying?

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Rob Ahern

High speed rail is definitely worth it – given the current and future states of wireless technology, the idea of wasting time driving is unacceptable. Telecommuting is fast becoming a significant (or dominant) paradigm for the Federal government, and with good reason. In addition to improving the work/life balance, this type of flexibility enables employees to live outside of crowded, expensive cities… I can imagine real cost savings for the Fed if those living decisions were calculated into locality pay, instead of simply focusing on the actual duty station. What does this have to do with high speed trains? I would happily live in RTP (Raleigh, NC) if the commute to DC was 1-2 hours via train (it’s usually about a 4 hour drive but with traffic, who knows). My second route would extend all the way along the eastern coast; I’m equally interested in quick travel to NY City and Miami. With regard to speed, anything south of 100mph doesn’t seem to make much sense – most folks average around 80mph on I-95 anyhow, so it would have to be well above that to really represent a large technical leap. I think the newest Chinese trains operate around the 200mph range, and that sounds great.

Good question- thanks for posting!

Lisa Pierson

I’ve taken the high speed rail to NYC from DC, what a difference it made versus the raggedy version of low-speed. Not to mention it would be a great alternative to flying and a great way to see the country. It’s about time we try to step up to our European counterparts that seem to have little issue with having a modern day rail infrastructure (think the English Channel tunnel between London and Paris). Not to mention if it helps American invest in America and create jobs, I think it’s worth the consideration.

Ed Albetski

The state of Virginia has eleven colleges along Rte. 81, a workhorse of a highway, always crowded with tractor trailers of goods being trucked up and down the state. 81 is paralleled by a railroad track and there are train stations in nearly every little college town, but they are for FREIGHT only. Each year there are so many traffic accidents, many of then fatal, involving college students. What a fine thing it would be to upgrade the tracks for high speed passenger rail. I’d like to see the whole corridor from Maine to Louisiana upgraded.

Andrew Krzmarzick

1 – Absolutely 150% worth it…but they need to go a lot further and launch a HUGE marketing campaign to encourage people to use it…and that campaign needs to start now.

2 – Like Rob, Durham to DC and Durham to Charlotte….but I’d use it to travel up and down the coast and would love a high speed train route from here to the midwest.

3 – It would have to be 2-3 times the speed of driving, so 150-200 MPH on average.

Candace Riddle

I think we need high speed rail in the heartland (i.e. the Midwest). I grew up there, and still go back to visit. It is always sooo expensive to fly in or drive in. If there was high speed rail that ran from say DC, to Pittsburgh, to Cleveland, to Columbus, and then on out to Chicago…I would definately use it. I would use Amtrack now, but it is usually more expensive than flying and a lot slower.

High Speed Rail would definately have to be about 150-200 mph for me to take it over driving or flying.

AJ Dronkers

I’m a huge advocate for high speed rail and definitely think we need to focus on where high speed rail adds the most value as far as reducing congestion, potential riders and business uses. I think the the two locations I would focus on are CA (San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego) and TX corridor. I think a focus needs to be on making them efficient both from a time perspective and environment. Also we need to make sure that these trains are AFFORDABLE. I go from DC to NYC all time and to be frank the regular train costs are RIDICULOUS not to mention the costs of taking the speed train, Acela. Typical round trip tickets from DC-NYC on regular trains are around $120-150 and to take the Acela you better to double that estimate. That is astronomical for anyone especially considering I can take a variety of comfortable wifi enabled buses for between $5 – 40 round trip. You could also fly for less…



Great questions and here are my answers:

1) Is it worth it? – TOTALLY. It is a necessity for our nation as we move forward to have a viable alternative to automobiles for moving people – one that is safe, clean, efficient and swift. Apart from all the political and economic reasons cited, by building a true high speed rail network (>200MPH; at least 150MPH+) we can take a giant leap in terms of national productivity and save a lot of lives on the road by moving people to the trains from their cars We are still losing 34K lives every year on the American roads). Resulting congestion reduction from such a move would have far more impact on improving the public health associated with our nation’s clogged highways.

2) Assuming they do build high speed rail name 2 routes that you would use – I’d consider doing two routes, one on each coast. California has already embarked on this with a huge $3B gift and it might be worth continuing with that investment. On the East Coast, though there are several routes that look very promising, I’d consider investing in upgrading the North East Corridor between DC and NYC (and Boston). This route has already shown there is a huge demand for high-speed trains (the Acela, with its ~70mph is often full, esp. during bad weather). Revamping the infrastructure in this corridor would be a ridiculously expensive proposition but it would be totally worth it.

3). How fast would a train have to go to make you consider not driving or flying – For this option to become economically competitive with the aviation and road transportation options, the trains have to hit at least 200MPH. Any trips between 400 to 500miles is what the HSR network is aiming to target. To traverse this distance by car, it would be about roughly 6hrs to 8hrs and the trains can cut this time by half. For anything distance over that, air travel would be a much more appealing option.

One final

Joey White

If we’re going to do it, we need to do it correctly. As others have noted, 150-200 MPH is necessary. It seems most of the proposals I’ve heard floated are 80-120 MPH. That’s not enough of a benefit to me to use over driving (often far cheaper, especially for a family) or flying (often comparable in cost).

My round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to DC in September was $168. While that’s certainly on the low end and there are more expensive flights, I can’t imagine a train coming anywhere close to that. I don’t really see longer flights like that being replaced, but I could see taking a train from Minneapolis to Chicago or St. Louis.

Lee Stang

Sorry the Government can’t afford this. What should be cut out of the budget to afford this? Passenger rail is not profitable now is it? Congress needs to make hard decisions on what should be cut and what should not. Unfortunately they can’t do it. Across the board cuts which appear to be what is coming will just make the government that much more inefficient.

Darrel W. Cole

An investment in all types of infrastructure is needed in the U.S. Our roads need work and expansion, our transit systems are not paying for themselves, and we completely ignore the major needs of our freight network (ports, rail, trucking). Passenger rail is crucial as well as we look decades in to the future. We must have new options for travel. Period.

The problem that occurs is people are too focused on the “high speed” part of high speed rail. THis is partly due to the initial selling of this to the public and the government not being clear that not all of the new rail starts would be high speed when compared to Europe etc. Much of the investment in rail is simply getting the infrastructure in place to make it happen, and then to build on it for the future. High speed rail doesn’t happen magically right off the bat, there is a process and staging that must take place. Calif. is the exception here at this point. In fact, much of the HSR funds going out are simply for studies to determine environmental impacts and the like. HSR also hits on another extremely important point in that there is a direct correlation to freight, because the majority of the new HSR lines would have to use freight track and ROW. THis is no small issue, and is requiring major effort to come to agreements. As an example, I believe 70-80 percent of the rail lines that Amtrak travels on are owned by freight.

Just like you couldn’t look at a map and say “lets put a new road here” you also can’t do that with high speed rail or any speed rail. Many factors come in to play (property impacts, environmental impacts, infrastructure needs, ridership and the like) before new rail can be put in place.

I caution everyone though that not to set the expectations too high at this point for what new passenger rail will deliver. It must come in phases and it will take decades for it to take hold. It didn’t happen in our countries overnight. The U.S. is still a much more car-depend

Todd Solomon

Great topic. I love the HSR idea, but I’m saving some love for not-so-high-speed-rail, too. We need to invest in sub-HSR to get people access to the primary HSR corridors. The President’s plan calls for some medium speed rail investment and some relatively low speed rail investment, for good reason. Only about 50% of the $$$ are going to true HSR, and I, for one, am okay with that. Also, as much as I hate to disagree with transportgooru, distances as low as 200 miles will be useful (DC-NYC).

Rich Kolm

No, it is not worth it. We are already broke and rails are fantastically capital intensice 19th century technology. Those wonderful TGV trains in France almost bankrupted the country and did not make it more “competitive.” Rail always claims to be cost effective, then needs massive subsidies. I was here when Metro was sold as generating cash! There was one dissenter who pointed out that dedicated bus lanes with better info systems would not lock us into 1970’s commuting patterns. How prescient! Think what we could do today with smart handhelds, GPS and flexible electric vehicles.

Ann Christman

1. Yes, if routes are chosen wisely

2. Milwaukee to Chicago; Milwaukee to Minneapolis; Milwaukee to DC (OK, that’s three, not two. Sorry) All three of these cities have decent public transportation, so having a car once I get there is less of a concern. Unfortunately, Wisconsin turned back the money it was allocated for high speed rail because certain groups referred to it as simply a high speed rail line from Milwaukee to Madison, which is a 90 mile drive, rather than one link in a chain that would eventually run from Chicago to Minneapolis.

Sorry Joey White, you’re envisioned trip from Minneapolis to Chicago looks like it might have to take the long route around Wisconsin, down through Minnesota to Dubuque, Iowa and then east through Illinois, unless Iowa decides against high speed rail, in which case you’ll have to go north to Canada, east to Michigan, south to Indiana, west west to Illinois….

3. 100- 125 mph I know that’s not high speed, but it’s faster than I care to drive and I can do other things while I’m riding along that I can’t do when I’m driving.

Sterling Whitehead

1) I don’t know. There needs to be a return on investment (ROI) to make it worthwhile. The Whitehouse, as far as I know, has not provided figures and evidence on a ROI. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) should produce a report on the possible ROI and the routes for the best possible ROI.

2) Unsure. That’s why a CBO report on ROI is needed.

3) Generally, faster than a car trip or a plane trip (including travel to and from the airports). Likely, high-speed rail would be useful for regional travel where a train is faster than a car. However, high-speed rail can’t compete with air for transcontinental travel; high-speed rail will simply be too slow.

Greg Mt.Joy

1. Yes. Go to Europe. Ride the rails. Mavel at the cleanliness, timeliness of the trains and the emptiness of the highways. Win win win.

2. My front door to my office door. I’d settle for Austin to Houston and Austin to San Antonio.

3. Given that you are supposed to be at the airport two hours before any flight, speed isn’t as much of an issue as some would have you believe. Get me to San Antonio in two hours and I’m happy. Houston in four would be OK. Anything faster is gravy.


Yes for certain routes but infrastructure around it needs to be good.

They are thinking of adding it from Tampa to Orlando. Problem is the difficulty of getting to/from the rail stations in those cities is high.

I’d focus first on places that are ideal. Like Durham to DC for example

Marco Morales

It would save money in the long run. I’d connect a rail from Memphis to Atlanta via Huntsville, AL. and another one from Houston, Texas to Dallas via San Antonio and Austin like Greg Mt. Joy commented below. Another one that would seem to make sense would be Dallas, Texas to Los Angeles via El Paso, Las Cruces, NM, and Phoenix, AZ.

Sterling Whitehead

General statements about high-speed rail should be backed with specific evidence or citations.

Remember: just because we like or dislike the idea of high-speed rail doesn’t mean our opinion is fact.

Darrel W. Cole

A theme in general that needs some clarification. Passenger rail is no different than highways or bus systems in that they all need subsidies. None make money, with obviously some toll roads the exception. There is billions dedicated to building and improving highway systems (still not enough, however) and it’s just accepted that aren’t revenue-generators. People just want “something” done. Passenger rail will do “something” too, and we need more of it. There are many reasons, but here’s a few benefits:
* Passenger trains are 20 percent more efficient than airplanes and 36 more efficient than cars in terms of energy used per passenger mile.
* Passenger rail is not an economic development tool by itself, but it can activate economic development potential, and creating a focal point for future development with major benefits to cities and towns.


Great points, Darrell… Here is my attempt to adding some fun to an otherwise serious conversation/debate. Â I got a wind of this video via DC’s blogger “Wonkette.com” and had to throw it on my personal blog. Â She observes that this movie trailer received cheers at the GOP’s mega event – Conservative Political Action Congress (CPAC) -happening in DC.Â


Now I’m all eyes and ears for this movie.. and back to your conversations on this topic!

Allen Sheaprd

The comments have been good so lets stick with the facts. One fact that is hard to estimate: cost of doing nothing.

Cost of US highway system, Trans contenental rail funding a sailor named Columbus.

Fact the US population is growing by birth and immigration.

Fact people do not stand still – they travel for business and pleasure. Goods do not stand still. The proven market of “over night” delivery shows that.

The fear of building high speed rail that is not used or under used has not been seen in other countries.

Fact our highways and airports are not under utilized but clog up more often from sheer demand. Not bad weather or mechanical failure.

Belief (source needed) – moving people and goods by rail, even at high speed, uses less fuel.

Trivia – at 60MPH drivers leave only four car lengths between them – not the needed six to seven. Looking down, every fith car length of road has a car – four do not. Yes 1 in 5 or 1/5 or 20% utilized. Trains fill this gap by coupling rail cars together. While trains do not equal the capacity of a highway they do take vehicals off the road.

Trains adapt to need. Rail cars can be added or deleted based on need.

Drawbacks – trains can be shut down by bad weather – just like airports, roads and highways.

Using high speed rail for evacuations requires planning.

Trains use the “hub and spoke” model making trips longer.

Gavin Smith

Toledo to Chicago, and Toledo to Columbus. If I can get to Chicago in 2 hours instead of 4.5, and if I then didn’t have to do something with my car, Chicago suddenly becomes a routine trip. Especially if I can spend the travel time reading/working instead of driving/stopping at toll booths. Same with Columbus, my state capital. It’s a 5-hour time commitment to drive there and back for a meeting or conference; if those 5 hours could be spent productively instead of avoiding crazy drivers, it makes involvement with state-level agencies much more realistic.

Allen Sheaprd


You make a good point about “and did not have to do something with my car” Some cities like DC, NY, etc have a good subway, cab system. Others do not.

I assumed cars could be loaded like the “car train” running along I-95 on the east coast. The car & passenger ferry across lake Michigan is neat. Norfolk has a ferry because the down town area is next to the water – no car needed.

Greg Mt.Joy

Allen, we have a couple of car share companies in Austin already, and we only have an extremely limited rail system (one line). I imagine car share services will pop up like weeds in cities with new rail. Bringing the car with you (via another train or the same one) is kind of silly.