In one effort to get the economy moving forward, the President is hoping to mimic job-creating transport initiatives of the past – like the Eisenhower interstate highway system– by building a national “high-speed” rail infrastructure. He cites the success of superfast trains in countries like France and Japan as incentive to support an initial investment of $8 billion out of his massive economic stimulus package.
Atlanta would be a stop along two of ten proposed high-speed routes – the Southeast Corridor and the Gulf Coast Corridor. The first route would begin in Washington, DC, then zigzag through Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia and Savannah, before ending in Jacksonville. The second route would link Atlanta to Houston via Birmingham, Mobile and New Orleans.
The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration defines “high-speed” rail as trains averaging faster than 90 miles per hour. The European high-speed standard is at least 125 miles per hour, and Japanese bullet trains average speeds of 180 mph. Currently, Amtrak’s only high-speed route – the Acela Express – averages about 86 miles per hour through the northeast corridor, while service on typical Amtrak routes average closer to 50 miles per hour.
Setting aside budgetary realities and political skepticism, I wonder how many travelers would be on board for “high-speed” rail service like that proposed by President Obama.
I personally love the nostalgia of trains and would occasionally take the sleeper from Washington to Atlanta when we lived in DC. We would leave DC around 7 p.m. and end up in Atlanta around 9 a.m., making stops in towns throughout the night. It took less time to drive that distance, but we could relax, eat a nice meal in the dining car, watch the scenery and sleep on the train. It was a nice trade-off when we had the extra time and money. (The sleeper car was pretty pricey, as I recall.) I have also traveled from DC to New York on the more-crowded commuter route, and always wanted to complete Amtrak’s Crescent route by taking a day trip from Atlanta to New Orleans.
As much as I enjoy traveling by rail – here and in Europe – I’m trying to figure out if I would realistically and consistently choose a 90 mph train trip over car or planes if “high-speed” rail becomes an option over here. Right now, I’m thinking the answer would be no – at least on a routine basis. I’m sure I would check out the new system, and I might choose rails over roads if I knew I was traveling over a holiday or another particularly traffic-prone time. But 90 mph with stops and starts along the way just doesn’t seem much faster than the 70 mph I average on the nation’s highways. Even building in time to get through airport security and baggage claim, it can’t compare to the 500 miles per hour I can cover on a commercial jetliner.
It might be nice to have another option, which would in turn reduce some air and road traffic for everyone. But the price would have to be competitive and the train would have to be seriously fast if I were to consider using high-speed rail as a regular mode of travel.
What about you? Are you excited about the prospect of a faster way to travel by rail? Have you ever tried the European or Japanese high-speed rail systems? Do you think a similar network of passenger routes could make traveling easier for Americans?
How often have you traveled Amtrak in the past?
How much time would you have to save over traditional rail travel to give high-speed a try? Would the ancillary benefits of high-speed rail travel — like full meal services or perceived environmental advantages – factor into your decision to choose the train?