High-Speed Rail

New U.S. High Speed Rail Association Presents Network Plan

USHSR Association Map


Organization envisions 17,000-mile network stretching across the country, but its phasing and route plans need work.

More than any time in U.S. history, there is strong, bipartisan support for public investment in expanded rail networks. The momentum behind what may be the country’s next major national project is developing quickly, with states recently applying for more than $100 billion worth of planning and construction programs in corridors throughout the continental 48. The U.S. House’s approval last week of $4 billion in allocations for high-speed rail in fiscal year 2010 alone suggests that the stimulus’ inclusion of $8 billion for train service improvements was only the first step in a decades-long transportation program whose costs may stretch into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

The new U.S. High Speed Rail Association will lobby in Washington for the full implementation of what may be a fifty year project. Run by individuals with backgrounds in architecture, planning, and development, the organization may prove to be an effective force in pushing Congress to approve more funding. Yet the group has yet to make its influence known, and none of its staff appear to have close contact with members of Congress or the White House. Whether it could eventually evolve into a lobbying powerhouse depends on contributions from states and private industry; there are other significant organizations such as the Association of American Railroads and locally-focused groups like the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association that already hold sway in Washington and may play more prominent roles in rail advocacy.

The new association, however, is already pushing an aggressive plan, as illustrated in their proposed network shown above. The proposal would sponsor the construction of 17,000 miles of 220 mph train lines, all electric, to be built out by 2030. The system would reach 44 states and stretch coast-to-coast.

The seriousness of this proposal should be put into question, of course: any organization that claims that it is feasible to ramp up lines in California, Washington state, Texas, Florida, the Southeast, and the Northeast to 220 mph levels by 2015 is fooling itself. California’s ambitious proposal for a starter corridor between San Francisco and Los Angeles won’t open for service until 2018 at the earliest — and it’s the only Express-HSR project in the country that has even partial funding at this time.

Yet the motivation sustaining the development of a national plan is a good one — I pushed my own serious proposal on this blog earlier this year. Yet I am skeptical of some of the USHSR plan’s provisions. Specifically, I question proponents of high-speed rail routes that traverse empty areas of the country. This proposal’s inclusion of links such as those between Boise and Seattle; Salt Lake City and Sacramento; Denver and Kansas City; and Albuquerque and Dallas — each pair of which is more than 500 miles apart and separated by emptiness– stand out as attempts to make the system seem national without providing adequate justification for how these routes would be economically tenable.

Similarly, the organization’s inefficient routing in Texas (a triangle versus the more realistic T-Bone), its adherence to a connection between Boston and Montréal rather than the more reasonable Albany-Montréal link, and its decision to endorse far too many interconnections along the edges of the Mississippi River (such as between Jackson and Dallas; St. Louis and Nashville; and Nashville and Birmingham), suggest that the organization’s idea of a national rail plan involves drawing lines between big cities rather than a measured study of which connections would be most effective in attracting ridership and responding to air and highway congestion.

There is little attempt here to prioritize investment on the most important corridors.

Indeed, it’s worth reconsidering what the criterion behind developing a national plan should be when new proposals such as this one are released. How sturdy are the routes and phasing plan of this proposal? How has the organization determined which lines should be built, and their order?

The website, at least, doesn’t make the answers to those questions very clear.

America 2050 Trans-American Passenger Network America 2050 Map in Newsweek


The background of the group’s proposal is the Regional Plan Association’s metro regions map, produced for its offshoot America 2050. Yet America 2050 has produced its own vision for a national rail network, and it doesn’t match that of USHSR. Shown above, America 2050’s Trans-American Network, in fact, adheres to a strict look at where passenger flows actually are and attempts to address routes that fit the natural advantages of high-speed rail, namely highlighting corridors between big cities 200-500 miles apart. While I have some qualms with the specifics of the Trans-American Network (such as, again, its use of the Texas Triangle, not T-Bone), its vision would focus high-speed rail investment in regional corridors, rather than attempt to criss-cross the mountain west with track, as would USHSR. The two organizations have produced incredibly differing visions of a national rail system, and America 2050’s would be a whole lot of a sounder investment.

America 2050’s phasing plan is irrationally optimistic like that of USHSR, promoting 150 mph+ lines in California, the Midwest, and the Northeast by 2015. It also includes a line — Denver to Albuquerque — that I do not believe should be a national priority.

The greater moral of the story, nevertheless, is that USHSR has a lot more work to do before it can claim to be promoting a reasonable, implementable national rail network. It should be using objective, reliable measures to advocate certain corridors over others, and then recommend their construction to the U.S. DOT, which similarly has a responsibility to establish stronger guidelines for rail investment and must undertake planning for a national network over the next several months. Those steps are necessary as we become more and more serious about high-speed rail in the United States, and as advocacy organizations such as USHSR play a larger role.

Image top: USHSR Network Plan

Images below: Trans-American Passenger Network Plan and Phasing Plan, from America 2050

48 replies on “New U.S. High Speed Rail Association Presents Network Plan”

You bring out a lot of points I thought while reading the article.

The Denver/ Albuquerque line they have in the second time line. Someone in the group must live in this area.

They take the line across the south and move it up from Phoenix to Albuquerque instead of running it South. Again, where do they live?

I personally don’t mind the idea that they want 220 true HSR across some open spaces to connect the country. Development truly does follow transit. If those are wide open spaces between the towns and more than 500 miles apart as you have said, you can make a stop in the middle and that place WILL grow. Plus what it will do is give a connection point from the slower trains to the faster ones increasing everyone’s travel times and giving more passengers to the line. So although not priority number 1, I do not believe discounting the connections like that should be something we do. I often find that in transit it is still and us vs them situation instead of integration.

I agree that the southern route through Albuquerque is problematic. However, I feel that it is important to get the Denver-Albuquerque route constructed as soon as possible – if not with true HSR, at least with reasonable speeds. This is mainly to promote an interconnected network: for example, the route would provide a quicker trip from Los Angeles to Denver. The current Amtrak network is not interconnected, and as such, interconnection should be made a top priority.

I don’t think they have someone living in Albuquerque. It just shows they’re desire to link all the trains into a national network. Phoenix to Albuquerque and Albuquerque to Dallas both make more sens then Phoenix to Dallas. None of those lines really makes any sense, but if you start with the goal of linking the entire country then that’s where you run the line.

This map is profoundly uninformed, particularly when it comes to the two biggest pieces of any schedule for HSR- money, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

It’s clear that they simply drew lines between big cities and drew lines between bigger city pairs first.

The Southeast is a great example. They have Charlotte to Atlanta by 2015, when neither GA nor SC have put a dime into rail in years and their neanderthal state legislatures discuss whether or not rail is “too socialist.”

Meanwhile, VA and NC have together invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Washington to Charlotte corridor, have environmental work done and track designs close to finished, and that comes after the link from Atlanta to Charlotte in this plan.

These guys need to do a lot more homework before they set up shop on the hill. They’re clueless about fundamental issues of feasibility and state participation, and funding streams.

Other than that, it’s a great plan.

I prefer something like this:

Comments are welcome. The lines proposed by the US HSR Association has a lot of duplicated effort in it. For example, you don’t need Dallas to Jackson, MS, when all you need to do is add a line from Memphis to Birmingham. Their Texas Triangle is a poor route choice cost wise when you could focus the triangle on Waco, Austin, and College Station and then branch out to the large cities.

NikolasM, a few questions:

1. Why link Salt Lake to LA, but not Northern California to Cascadia? The terrain looks equally challenging but you have what seems to be less distance and much more population to connect on the west coast.

2. Why link megaregions like the Front Range to the GReat lakes instead of adding more short corridors off of the NEC? WOuldn’t that be more cost-effective with state level corridors?

In short, what would you think of a policy that encouraged air transport for megaregions separated by more than 250 miles, for example, and rail connections between megaregions that are closer than that?

Why 250 miles? That is nothing for HSR to cover. 1000 miles is a 5 hour ride give or take and you can make that a city center to city center run. A real rail plan needs to hit a good amount of states, it is all about votes: 218+1, 50+1, etc… plus the jobs benefits plus the enviromental / land use benefits…

I see plenty of lines off of the NEC corridor. Many of them rightly should be dealt with by commuter rail.

Setting aside prioritization and just focusing on effective train routing, the “T-Bone” concept of Texas has broad applicability — not just in Texas. The shortest (least infrastructure) connection between three cities will always be a “Y” shape, and the longest (most infrastructure) a triangle. In any instance where three roughly equidistant cities are to be connected with new infrastructure (as any true high speed electrified line would be in this country), “Y” routings are almost always going to be the most efficient and effective way when substantial new infrastructure is involved (even if existing ROW is leveraged as much possible). For instance: Chicago-St Louis-Indy; Indy-Louisville-Cincy; Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Columbus; St Louis-Memphis-Nashville; etc.

Simple – the T-concept is an interesting idea, and I have a few thoughts about that.

I’m not sure a Chicago-St.Louis-Indy T is really viable – if, for example, you were routing it through Champaign, it would only be about 30 fewer miles of new track compared to a straight Indy-Lafayette-LakeCo.-Chicago route, and you’d likely add 20-30 min. for Indy-Chicago travel time. Given how close those cities are, you’re probably better off with something more direct.

Still, a T-connection could work well for Indy/Cincinatti/Louisville.

I also have an idea for a Cincinnati-Chicago connection that I haven’t seen being advocated. Most proposals create a Cincinnati route by linking it with Indy and then north to Chicago. They route a Toledo-Detroit connection with Chicago through Ft. Wayne.

Why not make Ft. Wayne a T-junction, and have a branch going southeast to Dayton, where it would link up with the Ohio 3C corridor and provide direct Chicago connections not only with Cincinatti but Dayton, Columbus, Springfield and Hamilton? It would only add about 10 min. of travel time to a Cincy-Chicago train, while providing direct connections with Chicago for several million additional people.

If they are gonna build a line between Salt Lake and the Pacific Northwest–it seems it would make more sense to terminate it in Portland rather than Seattle–far easier to run trains up the Columbia Gorge than through the Cascade Mountains.

Unless, of course, the declaration of the Columbia Gorge National Scenic area would have the same impact on rail development that it has on much private development in the gorge.

Of course, a Portland connection might cause the line to miss the Tri-Cities, unless it went a bit out of the way.

Another option might be the line shown above (Salt Lake/Boise/Tri-Cities/Yakima/Sea-Tac) coupled with a Portland/Tri-Cities/Spokane line.

The general direction of thinking within this proposal shouldn’t be knocked. They are trying, It needs work but they’re trying.

I don’t understand why a plan of such magnitude should be considered optimistic with a 50 year window? I get politics will play a part but seriously China plans a 9000 mile (give or take) HSR network within 10 years. Why would we not be able to get it done with 40 years more?

Let the frittering begin…

Here’s your first clue why this plan is dodgy: “Run by individuals with backgrounds in architecture, planning, and development..”
(full disclosure: I am an architect). They were no doubt obsessed with making pretty pictures on the map and ensuring there is something for everyone.

Secondly, with extremely limited resources (our $12B, if it ever comes to pass, is still less than Spain’s annual budget, and we’ve got catching up to do) we now have competing plans from competing groups which will stall any real progress for a few more years (or until the GOP is back in power, whichever comes first)

Third, what exactly is HSR supposed to replace – flying or driving? If it’s flying, then a really good place to start looking at route demand is airlines. If an airline can’t make money on a route, with totally flexible equipment and all the infrastructure already bought, built and maintained by someone else, then there’s no way a HSR train will make money on that route with massively greater investment and the same (if not higher) fares than air travel.

Maybe, maybe, if we identified 1500 miles of slam-dunk guaranteed successful HSR (I’d think Cali, Chicago area?, and NE Corridor, max) we could get enough traction to get something done.

We can debate this route or that all day, but to make it work someone has to want to ride the train. In the southeast, as PatrickM points out, nobody likes trains or wants trains. Despite all the logistical problems that everyone makes about the NE corridor, at least it’s filled with rabid progressives (as is Cali) who would walk ten miles in birkenstocks just to take the train. I’d think that’s the customer base you want for your demonstration project!

In the southeast it has been 60 years since they had any level of real train service. It is hard to know if they don’t like or don’t want. They have been fed a diet of all the highways you can eat for several generations now.

That’s quite a bit of generalizations Rockfish. North Carolina has seen tremendous rail ridership increases in recent years as the state has invested in bringing down travel times between raleigh and charlotte. As soon as that route gets to 2 hours travel time, you will see the disappearance of flights between the two cities.

Also, I wouldn’t count on birkenstock folks to provide enough ridership to make a line work.

The whole point of HSR is to replace flying AND driving for those 100-500 mile routes. It’s just a matter of which mode of transportation is most efficient for a given distance. For routes of that length, HSR makes the most sense.

China, obviously, has an easier political situation to deal with, in many ways–no need to consider local objections, no ideological objections to HSR on the grounds that it is insufficiently capitalist. (China is also building lots of freeways, and there’s no objection to those that they are insufficiently socialist, FTM…) Oh, and China also has lots of cash burning a hole in pockets, and lower wages and such. In many ways, China’s at a point economically that the US was at a century ago.

At any rate, public acceptance of HSR will depend much on how expensive gas is. As we saw last summer, US$4 per gallon appears to be the tipping point that greatly affects consumer behavior–and that price point is with the delapidated train network we currently have.

i find it odd that the empire corridor (nyc-albany-syracuse-buffalo) is in the 3rd phase plan (2025). i would have thought it would have been a prime route for the 1st phase and if not then a definite for the 2nd phase.

I noticed that the vast majority of the people involved with this organization have their backgrounds in aesthetic design, not transportation planning or operations.

The exception is Dr. Perl (on the advisory board). He wrote a pretty good book about passenger rail in North America:

I can’t knock them for getting involved, but the specifics of this map should not be taken seriously. Perhaps the organization will shift in order to promote the idea of HSR more than a specific network.

Even within regions, the USHSR routing is inconsistent with worldwide HSR travel patterns. Ridership is sensitive to the population of the largest city on the route, more so than to the population of the second largest city. This means that all the circumferential routes in the Midwest – St. Louis-Louisville, Minneapolis-Des Moines, Omaha-Kansas City – would be very lonely train rides, much lonelier than a straight shot from Chicago to Des Moines and Omaha.

The sensitivity to the population of the largest city means that Y-shaped lines will not be very useful outside Texas, where Houston and Dallas are roughly equal in population. In the Midwest, what’s important is connecting everyone to Chicago, which means V-shaped lines with the apex pointing toward the Chicago hub.

It also means that the priority along the Southeast Corridor should be the sections in the north, in Virginia and North Carolina. These connect to Washington and New York, which are larger than Atlanta. Fortunately this is also the part where HSR funding is in a better political position.

Funding for HSR is way overdue, but we really need to have is a transportation policy that addresses the relationship among road, rail and air travel for passengers. (Freight probably has a different calculus.)

A quick set of criteria, a formula of sorts for rationalizing transportation routes:

Less than 100 miles – road
100-500 miles – high speed rail
Over 500 miles – fly

These need to be the distance between major population centers.

I don’t understand this 500 mile thing. At 220 mph, say an average speed the whole way of 160 mph means you can cover 800 miles in 5 hours. Factor in 1.5 hours of getting to the airport early and you are in the same ball park travel time wise.

I think a Seattle-Boise via Portland line could work in the far future, although Seattle-Spokane is much more important.

Planes do 800 miles in 1:30-2:00, which is enough to beat current HSR in travel time. HSR needs to be slower than air by at most 2:00-2:30 to be competitive, and even that’s a stretch that requires bad airports and/or serving microdestinations better.

The other problem of 800-mile HSR is that rail needs a much higher passenger volume than air to be profitable. To be successful it needs to induce demand and/or divert it from cars, since even the busiest air routes have paltry ridership compared to HSR lines. With metro areas that aren’t traditionally integrated, rail has no hope of having enough demand: witness the low ridership on Eurostar, even though it already has 70% of the air/rail market between London and Paris, themselves the two largest cities in the EU.

Not being too familiar with the economics of HSR; why does it need to have a higher passenger volume than air? If you take a 737 with 130 passengers, baggage, and a flight crew of 5 or so (pilot, co-pilot, and three flight attendants), does the plane use less energy than a similiarly-laden high-speed train?

Planes flying at cruising altitude are fairly efficient–no ground resistance, and less air resistance due to altitude; its getting the thing up there that’s the problem. Trains at ground level have ground friction and mich higher air pressure to deal with.

The real problem with their plan is the priorities, which are all wrong, and failure to check out the status of most of the other plans in existence.

Omission of the “T-bone” is an example of the latter, and placement of the Albany-Buffalo line in the third tier is an example of the former. Placement of the Charlotte-Atlanta-Birmingham line (barely even qualifying as a pipe dream) before the Charlotte-Raleigh-Richmond line (detailed plans for 110 mph double track construction, and connection to the existing Acela) is an example of both.

There’s also a fundamental ignorance in their plan. In fact, the “high speed” sections of high speed rail are the ones not running through urbanized suburbs, and not going through mountains or over major rivers. Their priorities completely ignore both issues (which are among the reasons why Richmond-Raleigh and Buffalo-Albany will in reality be built long before Charlotte-Atlanta and Pittsburgh-Philadelphia or Buffalo-Toronto, but come afterwards in their plan).


Imagine the infrastructure needed to do 800 miles of rail service and 800 miles of air service.

Rail: 800 miles of track made really straight.
Plane: 2 miles of heavy duty asphalt.

Rail is a much more capital intensive mode than air. But rail has greater operating efficiencies at high levels of utilization, and is better at energy usage/emissions if electrified. It can also chain destinations together.

Adam – I thought the conversation could use some inflammatory generalizations, since most other commentors seem to be more worried about whether the train should stop at the northeast or southwest corner of 5th and Main in Topeka. (Yes, I know, another generalization!)

The reason you can’t set a limit of 500 miles is because your 500 miles isnt the guy in the next towns 500 miles. so either you’re shorting him, or shorting you. The fact is we need the lines to run everywhere. The argument should be a case of priorities, not a “we dont really need it there” discussion.

The single thing I hate most about people who support these transit programs is that its ALWAYS my way or nothing.

My question was focused on the operating costs–given that we already have good airport infrastructure throughout the US, it’s not a quandry that adding air service is cheaper than adding HSR, which requires entirely new infrastructure.

A common argument against rail of any sort, whether it be interurban HSR, or intra-city light rail or streetcar, is that it requires new track (and is therefore More Expensive), whereas other forms of transit (busses, for instance) do not–even if the other forms of transit are less desirable than rail for other reasons (ride comfort, operational efficiency). Such arguments generally rest on the fact that we’ve spent gazillions of dollars building up the other form of infrastructure, while shortchanging our rail network. (The fact that most railroads are private has a lot to do with it, I think). Of course, what modes of transit are going to be most useful in the 21st century, if and when oil gets more expensive, might not be what we have today.

Here’s another question–there is lots of speculation above and elsewhere at where the “cutoff point” is between HSR and air (i.e. at what distance is HSR of a certain speed a more desirable mode than air travel). Obviously such questions are dependent on many factors–fares being a big one that is seldom controlled for–but is there any empirical research on the subject?

Scotty, SNCF says that the TGV can successfully compete with air when HSR has a runtime of 4:00-4:30 or lower. In Japan, where HSR is slightly slower and air travel more competitive, the limit is somewhat lower, at 3:30-4:00. In both cases, HSR is much more expensive than flying – for instance, between Paris and Marseille, the TGV dominates even though it costs €90 whereas Ryanair charges €12.

The outer limit of when HSR can compete slowly increases, as it becomes faster and planes become less convenient. Before 9/11, SNCF put the limit at 3 hours, which at the prevalent 300 km/h speed corresponded to being 1:30 slower than air. The post-9/11 security restrictions have allowed HSR to be competitive when it’s 2 hours slower than air. (And without online check-in, it would’ve been more like 2:30-3:00).

Alon –

You greatly exaggerate the costs of train travel in France. If you book ahead, you can get a ticket from Paris to Marseille for €35. If you want an exchangeable ticket, you pay €50-60.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., book an Amtrak train between Boston and Washington (actually slightly shorter in distance than Paris-Marseille), and the cheapest you get ahead of time is $87, for a 7h30 trip… compared to 3h for Paris-Marseille.

Therefore, two important reasons why trains have high market share in France, but not in the U.S.: on equivalent travel, French trains are twice as fast and half as expensive.

Also: SNCF has a huge advantage over Ryanair that you didn’t mention — on any flights out of Paris, the carrier only flies from Beauvais, an airport that’s very, very far from the city center.

Alon, I defy you to actually get airfare for 12 Euros. It is nigh near impossible. We looked into it and for one flight those 12 euros quickly became 100 when we factored in all the fees we’d have to incur.

Air travel is not efficient and is often delayed. Enormous public expenditures are needed to build and maintain airports. The FAA and TSA are basically taxpayer gifts to the airline industry.

HSR can hold more people, is not delayed to due to weather and “traffic flow” problems, consumes far less ROW, is more energy efficient, and takes people from city center to city center. It connects cities in a way that no airport could. It is a boon to smaller cities not fortunate enough to have air service to major cities.

Yonah, to be fair to Amtrak, it charges similar prices for Regional trains taking the same time – from New York to Washington, it’s $49 if you book ahead, which is exactly €35. On Acela it’s $99, because for some reason Amtrak decided to make it business-only.

To be even fairer, it’s cheaper than the Shinkansen, which will short you ¥14,050 for a Nozomi train from Tokyo to Osaka. Of course, the Tokaido Shinkansen doesn’t have to worry much about air competition, but even the Sanyo Shinkansen, which does, is quite expensive. From Tokyo to Hiroshima, the Nozomi costs ¥18,550, and is about even with the airlines for market share.

because for some reason Amtrak decided to make it business-only.

They have first class too. :-) The car attendant will bring things to your seat, don’t have to go to the cafe car and mix with the peons in business class.

Acela replaced Metroliner service. Metroliner service replaced the all parlor car trains. … up until the late 50s on competing railroads.

If I remember correctly the plan was to introduce Acela and then begin to replace the Regionals with Acela like equipment. It was going to give Metroliner level of service to everyone. Instead we still have 30 year old Amfleet cars.


That plan got a ripping over at RAILROAD.NET’s board, so you fellow commenters are far from alone.

For my part, I notice a lack of supporting documentation for the details of why choose some routes instead of others.

The Denver – SLC – Sacramento – Seattle routes seem especially odd, because they go through thinly-populated and mountainous areas, where construction will be difficult and HSR service difficult to justify.

An eastern-US HSR meganetwork, covering all but the central Appalachians, is reasonably feasible, but west of Minnesota-Texas is much more difficult, and the most reasonable proposals there are scattered corridors amidst thinly-populated and often-mountainous areas.

you know what’s funny?… that if you make a call to the US High Speed Rail Association you will all realize it’s an almost-scam, non existat entity.
It has the same phone number and address than an interior design firm. No staff is listed (other than some top people) nobody works there. Make the test and post here on how you did.
Also, if you bear to google any of the people involved in the USHSRA you will also see that no-one has remotely any experience working with anything related with transportation. I can’t find any built projects (particularly by the president!) that may indicate they have any clue what they are talking about.
Also, the USHSRA website is registered by the same person that tried to blackmail the congress for the new urbanism in selling their website.
Try it for yourselves…

I will beleive it when I see it….Doesnt surprise me one bit that the US HSRA doesnt exist as a proper entity. I feel pretty confident in predicting that by 2015 there will still be 0 high speed lines in the USA. Its far safer and easier to build a new road or airport for a politician than to ask people to change how they travel. Of course if only 1 was built then it would cascade after a couple of years, but it will never happen, not in my lifetime.

Just to comment on the economics of it $12 billion is, ermm, not a lot.

Construction of a new rail line (HS2) between two cities in England is planned at $65 billion and those two cities (London and Birmingham) are only 100 miles apart AND the train won’t even go into Central London (it will connect with a radial commuter service) to save money.

Good luck with HSR across the continental US for $12 billion. Try $1.2 trillion, be really focussed on demand led routing rather than poilitical routing, and see what you can get.

There is no reason why train travel must be cheaper than air ticket wise. People who can afford air now will look at cost and end to end journey time. Many people would choose rail for similar journey time and cost, modern rail is MUCH MUCH more comfortable than air. Note the 75% adoption of Eurostar for London/Paris, previously the busiest international air route in the world.

That’s a bit misleading – the latest figure for HS2 is $55 billion, and that’s between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh, a considerably longer distance than just to Birmingham. From what I’ve read of the various plans, it is most certainly going in to central London, though there will likely be a spur to Heathrow (with a fairly quick Crossrail link – London’s new RER-type route – from there into the centre).

The latest news:

Hey Yonah,

Great post. I missed it when you wrote it.

I think the US High Speed Rail Association is spot on. Thanks for writing about this new organization.

What we need are transcontinental routes.

MEGA-region HSR may bring on a lot of infighting between states over Fed $.

I think USHSR missed the mid-section of the most advantageous & shortest route across the south: they correctly identify Jacksonville, FL to San Antonio, TX, but missed the section between San Antonio, El Paso & Tucson, AZ and then they correctly identify the Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego.

Put that together & you have the shortest distance across the U.S. (approx. 2300 miles.) Who cares if there is 200 to 500 miles of open space (let’s keep it that way – we need that open space – there’s a good reason its open space, there’s scant rainfall out there) – you can turn on the afterburners & max out at 220 mph out in the country.

Yonah, I very much agree with you the preferred HSR corridor is Montreal to NYC (NYC is the mega-magnet, not Boston), but there’s no reason to stop there: Montreal to Miami & that would “t bone” with Jacksonville to San Diego.

If you could actually travel by train (either one seat or guaranteed across-the-platform connection) from coast to coast in 11 hours, me for one. If I could get on a train in Washington at 8:00 AM and pull in to (say) Seattle at 4:00 PM, great. Even the other way, leave Seattle at 8:00 AM and pull in to Washington 10:00 PM is acceptable, though probably at the limits of acceptability.

You forget how bad air travel is. Non-stop, or even direct flights are OK (though even they don’t do 4 hours coast to coast). Connections, though, are unreliable (I speak as one who has slept on the floor of Hartsfield all night).

But 11 hours coast to coast is not actually on offer. 2300 miles is 10 1/2 hours non-stop, but trains will stop. Allow ten or a dozen stops and we’re over 11 1/2 hours. Add schedule pad and we’re over 12 1/2. And that’s assuming the stops are all in a straight line. Plus the cities between which people actually want to travel are further up the coasts.

220 mph is not good enough for transcontinental trains. Maybe later.

Jim, it’s not enough to have you as a traveler. The hypothetical 11-hour train could even get a decent market share, say 20% from Chicago to Los Angeles. With an express stopping pattern and a top speed of 350 km/h, 11 hours is achievable; it will be on a par with average speed computed by the California HSR Authority for its simulations of LA-Sacramento nonstop trains.

The real problem is, the market is tiny. Trains only succeed on routes where they can poach riders from conventional rail and cars; the reason Eurostar struggles to turn a profit with its 70% market share is that the market is just air and rail, so its ridership was capped by some low multiple of the pre-Channel Tunnel Paris-London air market. And as small as the Paris-London market was, Chicago-LA is even smaller. Even New York-LA is, I believe, 2.7 million passengers a year, well behind the 4 million peak of Paris-London in 1993.

Alon — A transcontinental route is low priority and long range. But it can be a harmless goal like “by the end of the century”. For the remainder of this century, it will be worthwhile to speed up all the trains, Sunset Limited or whatever name, whenever and wherever it is cheap and easy to do so.

Richard identified the stretch Tucson-El Paso-San Antonio that’s already a tourist train, with little promotion. The route connects historic cities that grew up around Spanish missions, and passes through striking scenery of desert mountain badlands. (I know, because I drive most of this route two or three times a year with my aged mother.) And the tiny town of Alpine, Texas, boards several thousand passengers iirc, because it’s the gateway to Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains region.

But the current schedule is not tourist friendly (or I’d take the train myself). Westbound it leaves San Antonio at a highly inconvenient dawn or pre-dawn hour. At least that lets the passengers see the more spectacularly scenic areas to the west during daylight, squinting into the sunset, and arriving in El Paso just after dark. Of course that means riding on to Tucson in the dark.

Adding a second daily train to the route would allow tourists to stay a night or two in El Paso to tour that city before moving on to Tucson in daylight.

But note, San Antonio to El Paso, about 600 miles, takes 14 hours or so, on a route that is remarkably flat except for one bit in the mountains and it passes through wide open space where grade crossing are used by cattle, antelope, and jackrabbits but rarely by cars.

Speeding up that trip to average 60 mph would be cheap and easy, and a top speed of 110 would not be difficult. (Note the West Texas speed limit is 80 mph on Interstate 10.)

*** Running a train at the current speed is crazier than dreaming about running it as HSR. ***

As for who would ride it as HSR going coast to coast in 11 hours, it depends. Almost all the current passengers, if it didn’t get priced out of their range. So, obese folks who don’t fit into airline seats, claustrophobes and others with a fear of flying,
some who prefer to see landscape out the window instead of cloud tops, families who want to show their young ‘uns the vast scale of this country, travelers from towns with no air service, others who have the luxury of time, etc. An overnight sleeper would combine rail travel with a hotel room.

A slower HSR would also have great appeal. If top speed would take 11 hours coast to coast, would 110 mph give us three 11-hour days, plus stops for a day or two at Big Bend National Park and another at New Orleans? Where can I buy that ticket? Is there a market for it in Europe?

But for the most part, a transcontinental train would get filled the way the slow-poke long distance trains do now, with half or more of the passengers coming from relatively close city pairs like Mobile-New Orleans, Lafayette-Beaumont, New Orleans-Houston, San Antonio-El Paso, Tucson-Phoenix, Palm Springs-L.A., etc. (Half the Sunset Limited’s passengers travel less than 600 miles on the 2,000 miles-long route.)

No, there is no market for such trains in Europe – at least not a significant one. There’s no market for it in Japan, either, or in Australia, or New Zealand, or Canada. Hell, there’s no market for it in the US – the long-distance trains fill a train per day, and require multi-million dollar subsidies to run. Even the Trans-Siberian only fills a train per day, and works based on the old railroad model of running unprofitable passenger trains to advertise the freight operations. The Australian tourist railroads aren’t successful – the only proposal I’ve seen to improve them is to run them as cruises, complete with on-board gambling.

The problem isn’t even market share. The Trans-Siberian probably has a decent market share. The problem is that the market is too small. Airlines can profitably get people from New York to Los Angeles because the infrastructure necessary is exactly the same as for getting people from New York to Boston. Trains, whose costs scale with track length, aren’t in the same position.

NARP complains a lot about the need to service passengers who don’t like flying. Well, air has the dominant market share for long-distance travel, even though people can drive. For trips of 2,000 miles, air has 90% of the market share (link). The 50% point is at 875 miles, but that includes city pairs without direct air service, as noted in the comments to the linked article.

P.S. Alpine boards 3,519 passengers per year.

Back to tag 37. I agree with Ana; the USHSRA appears to be a “scam-like” front organization with a web site set up for the sole purpose of attracting registrations to the very expensive conference they have organized. When you see the top two “invited” speakers as the President and Vice President, you have to hesitate before typing in your credit card details.
They are probably perfectly legitimate of course but they are not getting my money until they prove it.
Well, this blog entry did provoke 47 responses – so in that sense they helped the cause.

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