Perhaps Amtrak President Joseph Boardman needs a lesson. Here’s what he told the Illinois House Railroad Industry Committee yesterday, according to the Chicago Tribune:
“It’s really not about the speed. It’s about reduced travel times and more frequency.”
I hate to point out the obvious — something I’ve had to do in the past — but reduced travel times can only be achieved through (a) reducing the distance traveled, or (b) increasing the speed of trains. Since I’m assuming Mr. Boardman wasn’t suggesting that customers simply start taking shorter trips, the only way you can reduce travel times is by increasing speed. So it really is about the speed. Sorry, Mr. Boardman.
Mr. Boardman used this argument to inform the committee that it was infeasible to build true high-speed rail (that is, “HSR-Express,” as we’re calling 150+ mph service these days) at the scale needed for the United States because of its high cost, and said that speed improvements to service at 110 mph were more realistic.
I have no problem with steadily improving train speeds, nor of course with increased frequency. But we should be investing in much faster speeds along the country’s most important corridors, like San Francisco-Los Angeles or Washington-Boston. Those lines, among others, deserve the same level of rail service as is provided in European and Asian countries, and there’s no reason to think that the U.S. is simply incapable of building them. Whether or not some trips taken by Americans are transcontinental, the fact is that the majority of long-distance trips are made by people traveling between cities 100 and 600 miles apart. Those distances are ideal for high-speed rail.
Fortunately, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood seems to disagree, telling the media that California’s high-speed rail project is “way, way, way ahead” of others — and implying that it will get the bulk of the recovery act’s fast train funds. He seems to be optimistic about that proposed 220 mph project. I’m not sure Mr. Boardman should be on his team.