The Future of US Rails : High Speed or Not?

Though many countries have developed high-speed rail such as Britain, China, France, Spain and Japan, the process of developing high-speed rail in the United States seems slower than normal. The effort of raising US railway speed can be dated back to 1934. In history, The Pioneer Zephyr set a speed record of 112.5mph, and its success made other railway companies join speed-raising competition to attract more passengers. However, after the Naperville train disaster in 1946, the US   government forced every company to install automatic train control (ATC). Due to the high prices of ATC, railway companies had to slow down the competition of building high-speed rails.


After years of stagnation, in contrast of the development of high-speed rails in other nations, the U.S. only has one high-speed rail nowadays, Acela Express, serving in the Northeast. Fortunately, high-speed rail project in California beginning in this year is regarded as the first step of the actual development of high-speed rail in the U.S. This railway will connect major cities in California, and can be fully completed as early as 2029. According to the data from US High Speed Rail Association, if the high-speed railway system is constructed completely (across the whole nation), there will be millions more jobs and 19 billion revenue per year from the new system.



Regarding the general public’s preference towards means of transportation, a survey (refer to the link attached below for the source of survey) shows that, 79 percent of respondents prefer taking high-speed train than airplanes if high-speed rail exists and 61 percent would choose rail even for the same price. Besides the obvious price advantage, people prefer high-speed trains because of the saving of time to get to airport and arrival delay. All those show high-speed trains, as the means of long-distance transportation has opportunity cost advantage over airplanes.

Despite of the advantages of high-speed rail, the building is slow and facing a lot of obstacles. Only the first line of California high-speed rail project has been started because of the tremendous construction cost. For other parts of the nation, there are still no signs of showing that building such a profitable and economic transportation system interests politicians and general public. For example, the plan to raise the speed of the line that connects Portland, Seattle and Vancouver was halted in 2012 because of safety concerns from Union Pacific Railroad. While other major developed nations have enjoyed the speed and welfare of high-speed rail, the U.S. is still driving its trains slowly into the future.

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4 thoughts on “The Future of US Rails : High Speed or Not?

  1. taylorqjohnson says:

    It sounds like there could potentially be a high demand for new high-speed rails. However, I wonder if the costs of building such a system would outweigh the benefits. It seems like it is a very expensive project and there are also the added safety risks.


  2. I was also wondering if these high speed rails increased a nations GDP by any amount after they had them up and running. I do think high speed rails would be a great alternative to flying or driving across the nation, and i think would spark a lot of interest for traveling and visiting all these accessible cities. However, i also wonder like Taylor if the cost outweigh the benefits of building a high speed rail.


  3. Qingyang Shu says:

    The overall construction cost of all plans I mentioned above is 80 billion dollars. This is absolutely a huge cost and that’s why the project is run so slowly cause no one including congress would like to pay for this money. The profits I think is still remained unknown, although the associate says there will be 50 million passengers per year on the line from NYC to Boston. However, I believe that high speed rail would change people’s lives, giving them a more convenient choice of transportation. When people enjoy this convenience, they would prefer to choose high speed rail rather than bus or flights.


  4. This makes me think about what is going on in Seattle right now. Seattle is implementing a light rail system to connect all the Seattle neighborhoods. It has been under construction for 6 years now and isn’t going to finish for another 6 realistically. There is a station that has been under construction right next to my house. There has also been lots of technically difficulties due to the big drill being stuck underground for many months.
    I believe even though the US is behind lots of countries when it comes to transportation, we will get there eventually!


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