Interstate High Speed Rail System Needed

American companies built the world’s largest collection of freight & passenger railway lines. After World War II, American government added highways & airports that became the envy of the world. We could have built world-class High Speed Rail and greatly expanded Rapid Transit too. But powerful opponents and more wars prevented their investment. Excluding one corridor, we are left with a haphazard collection of slow Amtrak lines that do not maximize connectivity or ridership between large metro areas. The results are fewer jobs, more air pollution and a Congestion Tax on every American — Thomas Dorsey

Amtrak System Map, Interstate High Speed Rail

World-class transportation infrastructure moving people and goods helped America become the world’s richest country. The public funded over $1.6 trillion in Interstate Highways and over $550 billion in commercial airports-aviation control. Billions more public dollars were invested in seaports. Fortunately, our 21,400 miles of private railway is still good for moving freight.

In contrast, our passenger rail sucks due to lack of public investment in faster, frequent, high-capacity passenger rail. A powerful coalition of industries prevented it by influencing Congress, presidents and governors to enact federal and state policy that financially and legally crippled passenger rail, while lavishly funding highway and airport infrastructure. Interstate High Speed Rail for passengers has been their most successful target. Opponents manipulated news media, politicians and citizens to erroneously believe that:

• Interstate High Speed Rail is not cost-justifiable in America
• We don’t need Interstate High Speed Rail because widening Interstate Highway solves congestion
• We don’t need Interstate High Speed Rail because Americans prefer regional flights

Though fewer industries oppose High Speed Rail (HSR) today, remaining opponents want news media, politicians and citizens to continue believing a dozen more anti-HSR arguments that are outdated, opinion misrepresented as fact, half-truths and lies. As a result, we have only one operational HSR corridor that has yet to reach its potential. Since America lacks a comprehensive Interstate HSR System, our Interstate Highway System attracts too many drivers and our commercial airports have excessive regional flights.

Understanding HSR enough to pass informed judgment about an Interstate HSR System requires more than a short video or news article that lacks context and essential depth. For example, the video below includes some truths, but exaggerates when it says America has no HSR. What they mean is, America doesn’t have an Interstate HSR System befitting its global-economic status, national scale and 21st century demands.

A narrative journey in short parts is a better approach to inform citizens. It must include contextual videos and informative charts & photos to make a complex subject seem less complex to laymen. To weigh benefits vs. costs, the narrative journey must enumerate train speeds, frequencies, capacities, mileage and environmental impacts. Given American population is growing, the nation must build more passenger transportation infrastructure. Consequently, the narrative journey must also weigh the benefits vs. costs of Interstate HSR vs. more highway lanes & airport runways. For readers that want more depth, the narrative journey includes numerous weblinks to facts and subject experts.

No approach will satisfy every reader. But I’m certain this approach will help most readers understand why America should build HSR in 20 states by 2030, jump to a 15,000-mile Interstate HSR System by 2040, then complete a 25,000-mile Interstate HSR System accessible to 90% of Americans by 2050.

This narrative journey begins when America had the world’s best infrastructure for passenger rail. If you are unfamiliar with that backstory and care to know, spend 3 minutes reviewing American Passenger Rail History to understand how and why the USA let its passenger rail atrophy.

Next, let’s briefly examine nations who paved the way for Intercity HSR. For maximum benefits over costs, America’s Interstate HSR System should model after one of them. Note that train speeds are listed below in Miles Per Hour (mph) and the international standard, Kilometers Per Hour (kph).

Would Japan be America’s Nation-Model for Interstate High Speed Rail?

Railways, factories and offices in Japan were heavily bombed in World War II. After the war ended in 1945, they had to rebuild. Since America’s railways, factories and offices stayed intact during World War II, it remained the only superpower capable of investment at home and abroad. In 1952, America invested $2.2 billion ($22 billion in 2020 dollars) to help rebuild Japan as an export market for American goods.

Under American-supervised occupation until 1952, post-war Japan entered a future with high gasoline prices and excessive dependence on imported oil. To reduce foreign oil dependence, Japan built nuclear power plants for electricity and rebuilt a modern electric grid.

Japan was not satisfied rebuilding 81-93 mph (130-150 kph) intercity passenger rail. Over/underpasses were built at each railroad crossing between its four largest metro areas — Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. Some space cleared by World War II bombing was used to ease railway curves for straighter track. Surface track was fenced off. Electric power systems and overhead wires for electric trains were upgraded. Hitachi developed more powerful electric train engines. A high-speed train control system was introduced. Electric-powered Commuter Rail and Metro Rail systems in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya were expanded, multiplying access to train stations. The smaller, historic city of Kyoto upgraded electric Streetcars to a faster form of service called Trams, which Americans call Light rail.

When Japan Central Railway launched the world’s first HSR line, “Shinkansen”, during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, top speed was 130 mph (210 kph) in 320-mile Tokyo-Nagoya-Kyoto-Osaka corridor. Shinkansen trains operated so dependably, you could set your watch by them. Shinkansen’s 2 hour 40 minute travel time cut demand for Tokyo-Osaka, Tokyo-Kyoto and Tokyo-Nagoya flights.

Electric trains do not emit fumes and access to train stations was easy, so more travelers spent time in station cafes and shops. Those conditions generated profits for Japan Central Railway, who owned the train stations. Equally important, the combined network of Shinkansen, Commuter Rail and Metro Rail trains enabled Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya residents to get most places with fewer cars per household. Kyoto citizens used streetcars and buses.

Nevertheless, upwardly-mobile citizens wanted to explore more of their region and nation by car. So Japan built a 4-lane national tollway system with a strict 62 mph (100 kph) speed limit and high tolls, connected to narrow 4-6 lane urban freeways. Citizens also wanted to explore and conduct business in other nations. So Japan modernized commercial airports for jet travel too.

Unfortunately, the hyper-dense population of an island nation, high oil costs, slow tollways and lower percentage of car ownership were too dissimilar from America for Japan to be a good HSR nation-model.

Which Country Would Become Nation-Model for High Speed Rail in America?

Railways, factories and offices in Europe were also heavily bombed in World War II. In 1948, America’s $15 billion ($161 billion in 2020 dollars) grant in the Marshall Plan helped rebuild Europe, a key export market for American goods. Western Europe rebuilt railway for diesel-powered passenger trains that ran 81-99 mph (130-160 kph). Sparked by Shinkansen success, in 1965, European train & railway companies accelerated R&D for their intercity passenger trains to achieve higher speeds too.

A consortium of aerospace companies from France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain and Netherlands started producing Airbus passenger planes in 1970-71 and lobbied for public-funded airport expansion. European automotive companies lobbied for public funds to build national tollways. European passenger rail would have to compete with them for public funding.

In the 1970s, Italy had modest population density, modest car ownership and half of America’s Median Household Income. The peninsular nation imported most of its oil. Rome and Florence airports were not very congested. Drivers often exceeded the 81 mph (130 kph) speed limit of Autostrade Tollway System. Italy exported sports cars that were celebrated in Italian culture. Trains were not. Rome had small Metro Rail and Commuter Rail systems, while Florence had Commuter Rail, but no Metro Rail. And yet by 1979, Italy opened Europe’s first electric-powered 155 mph HSR line between Rome and Florence. Unfortunately, that first HSR line was plagued with infrastructure issues until 1986, which slowed ridership growth and expansion until the 1990s.

Italy would not be a good HSR nation-model for America, but an Italian company introduced the Pendolino, whose tilt-train technology lets trains go faster in curves. Today, an advanced version its tilt-train technology is embedded in some High Speed Trains (HST).

West Germany had high Median Household Incomes, and a speed engineering culture from its sports car industry and “No Speed Limit” Autobahn Tollway built by 1940. After World War II ended in 1945, West Germany built large commercial airports and rebuilt passenger rail in and around its large cities. Those factors make it easy to imagine West Germany opening a HSR line before its neighbors. Not so fast.

Although West Germany conducted High Speed Rail R&D in the 1970s, lawsuits over property acquisition halted construction for over a decade. By 1989, that nation’s leaders also had to make other infrastructure investments for reunification of East Germany and West Germany. As a result, unified Germany did not open its first short 155 mph (250 kph) HSR line until 1991.

Given those conditions, Germany would not be a good HSR nation-model for America. Neither did Belgium, United Kingdom or Spain satisfy enough conditions to be a good HSR nation-model for America.

France Becomes the Nation-Model for High Speed Rail

Like the rest of Western Europe, France prioritized building a national Autoroute Tollway System and commercial airports after World War II. Unlike the rest of Europe, Paris and its train stations were spared from bombing. That helped its government-funded French National Railway company (SNCF) rebuild 81-99 mph (130-160 kph) passenger train infrastructure faster. As a result, France retained its passenger train culture, despite automotive and air travel growth.

Inspired by Shinkansen success in 1964, SNCF and its train-building partner, Alstom, launched R&D investment for test track and faster trains. By 1970, Alstom developed a gasoline-powered HST that showed promise operating above 130 mph (210 kph).

By 1973, France had significant population density in Lille-Paris-Lyon-Valence-Marseilles corridor, about 70% of America’s Median Household Income, a high percentage of car-ownership, many commercial airports and plenty of regional flights. Many Autoroute Tollways had an 81 mph (130 kph) speed limit. Though higher dependency on imported oil produced more expensive gasoline than in America, Parisians frequently drove south to Lyon, then further south to Marseilles and other Mediterranean cities. French Autoroute clogged on holidays. That year, the OPEC oil embargo crippled France’s economy and changed how the French would prioritize transportation and energy infrastructure.

To reduce foreign oil dependence, France prioritized building nuclear power plants and electric passenger rail. Two of France’s three largest cities, Paris and Lyon, were only 274 miles apart without a large mountain range between them. Alstom and SNCF were persuaded to re-engineer the gasoline-powered HST to an electric-powered HST on electric railway infrastructure. Paris expanded electric-powered Metro Rail and Commuter Rail lines headed to train stations. Lyon upgraded its Commuter Rail system and opened its first Metro Rail line to the train station in 1978, with more lines planned.

Alstom developed a state-of-art HST, called Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV). SNCF developed state-of-art HSR infrastructure called Ligne a Grande Vitesse (LGV) for TGV. LGV is straighter and flatter than typical railway. LGV has under/overpasses at every railroad crossing for train dependability and safety. LGV has more short tunnels and more aerial viaducts for straighter route than Japanese and Italian HSR. LGV has premium track bedding and precisely shaved tracks for smooth rides. Unlike prior European trains drawing 1.5 kV and 3 kV electricity from old power systems, SNCF set the standard for TGV (and other HST) to draw 25 kV electricity from modern power systems on LGV routes. LGV also employ advanced train control and superlative track maintenance for next level train safety.

In 1981, TGV service launched on LGV between Paris and Lyon. TGV immediately captured accolades as the world’s fastest train, 168 mph (270 kph). In an advanced European nation that never built a substantial export market for its cars like Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Sweden, making the world’s fastest train generated national pride in French citizens.

In 1988, Alstom upgraded TGV to 186 mph (300 kph), matching the speed capability of its 1st Generation LGV infrastructure. TGV frequency increased and Coach Fares lowered, inviting more travelers to switch from driving and flying. Paris and Lyon train stations integrating TGV, Commuter Rail and Metro Rail increased retail, hotel and tourism activity in their central cities.

TGV operating success and national pride inspired French citizens to vote for LGV expansion north & west from Paris and south from Lyon. As alternatives to long drives and regional flights, LGV expanded from Paris to LeMans and Paris to Tours in 1990, and from Paris to Lille in 1993. French travelers anxiously awaited the Channel Tunnel opening for Paris-Lille-London HSR service and LGV expansion from Lyon south to Valence in 1994. LGV expansion was also on target for Paris-Lille-Brussels HSR service in 1995.

By 1993, a shuttle or taxi ride to Paris, Lyon or Brussels airport, collect boarding pass, luggage drop-off, security check-in, boarding, origin runway taxi, flight, destination runway taxi, un-boarding, luggage pick-up, and shuttle or taxi to Central Business District (CBD) ballooned regional travel times by airplane mode from 2.5 hours to 3 hours. Autoroute Tollway times and airport queues in non-TGV corridors were lengthening due to population growth. More residents and tourists in France and Belgium were ready for fast trains.

The LGV System enabled TGV to achieve operating success in the most complex and similar conditions to America. French HSR was clearly the best HSR nation-model for Amtrak Northeast Corridor.

President Clinton’s Lackluster Initiation of High Speed Rail

It has not been as easy for U.S. railway after World War II. American media portrayed highways and airports as modern infrastructure. Railway was portrayed as old infrastructure. Most train stations were closed, re-purposed or demolished by 1960 — most with scant opposition. Interstate Highways were built and old National Highways were upgraded, making freight trucks a competitive threat to freight rail. As explained in American Passenger Rail History, intercity passenger trains were forced to reduce speed, while America helped its competition speed up.

The consequence of new federal and state policy after World War II, was slow bankruptcy for railroad companies. The sole exception was Metroliner passenger train service in Washington-Baltimore-Wilmington-Philadelphia-Newark-NYC corridor. When introduced in 1969, Metroliner ran up to 125 mph.

In 1971, Congress and President Nixon formed government-supported Amtrak to consolidate all intercity passenger trains. But only NYC-Washington and Philadelphia-Harrisburg railway corridors where purchased for Amtrak. Congress and President Nixon authorized annual subsidies to combine with Amtrak ticket revenue to sustain operations. Due to safety concerns caused by old railway infrastructure, Amtrak Metroliner was slowed to 100 mph in 1972. Since railroad companies owned all other railway, Congress was reluctant to fund of their infrastructure modernization for higher speeds. To survive railroad companies that sold off underused railway to transit agencies where they could, focused on freight rail operations and often merged.

In 1976, Congress and President Ford funded a small upgrade to Amtrak NYC-Washington corridor that would complete by 1984. The upgrade would enable Amtrak to reach 110 mph over half its 226-miles in that corridor.

In 1978, President Carter proposed a major upgrade to 457-mile Northeast Corridor (Boston-NYC-Washington) for Amtrak to reach 155 mph, like Shinkansen and Italy HSR were about to reach. Congress shelved his proposal.

Skip forward to 1993 America. Interstate Highways 95 and 295 returned to 75 mph, but traffic congestion and tollway stations in NYC-Washington corridor segment limited drivers to 60 mph Average Speed. Amtrak Metroliner’s average speed with stops was slightly higher and the train was operating close to breakeven. Northeast Corridor had higher Median Household Income than France. Northeast Corridor had more flyers and population density than Brussels-Lille-Paris-Lyon-Valence-Marseille corridor than TGV would draw from by 1995:

523 Miles: Brussels (1M) – Lille (1M) – Paris (9M) – Lyon (2M) – Valence (1M) – Marseilles (2M) = 15 Million Pop.
457 Miles: Boston (5M) – New Haven (500K) – NYC (17M) – Philly (6M) – Baltimore (2M) – DC (4M) = 34 Million Pop.

Referencing the French TGV nation-model, the Clinton Administration U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) reasoned that Northeast Corridor HSR similar to TGV should attract high ridership and operating profit. To accelerate recovery from economic recession in 1993, President Clinton announced that a portion of federal stimulus funds would upgrade the Northeast Corridor (Boston-NYC-Washington) to feature electric-powered, tilt-trains capable of 165 mph. Why would it run slower than 186 mph TGV?

HST operating in Northeast Corridor would need to tilt often on curvy railway in heavily developed parts of New York and Connecticut. At the time, tilting technology was only certified up to 165 mph. TGV does not need tilt-trains because LGV railway has mild curves. Nevertheless, an HST operating at 165 mph in America was still reason for hoopla. That HST was branded “Acela”, a portmanteau representing “Acceleration” and “Excellence.”

The American Highway Users Alliance (Highway Lobby), feared that successful Acela service would spark demand for a Interstate HSR System across the nation. Should a comprehensive Interstate HSR system be built, that would reduce oil consumption from intercity car drives, regional flights, tire purchases, car rentals, intercity bus rides, concrete & asphalt sales for highway widening. The Aviation Lobby also feared loss of regional flights and less public funding for airport expansion.

That competitive threat motivated Aviation and Highway lobbies to step-up their influence with Congress. They funded think tanks whose editorial slant misled news media, Congress, governors and citizens to believe that HSR projects cost too much and should be evaluated as for-profit ventures. The two lobbies wreaked with hypocrisy, since they prevented highways and airports from being evaluated as for-profit ventures.

Unfortunately, the two lobbies convinced Congress to limit Northeast Corridor HSR project funding to a petty fraction of its documented need.

Clinton’s USDOT mistakenly spread that petty fraction over the 457-mile Boston-Providence-New Haven-Stamford-NYC-Newark-Philadelphia-Wilmington-Baltimore-Washington corridor, instead of concentrating on 262-mile Stamford-NYC-Washington segment as Phase 1. He could also start the environmental clearance process for a second Hudson River railway tunnel, but let its expensive construction be funded in Phase 2. That segment had America’s highest concentration of intercity and regional passenger rail ridership to garner political support from 6 states and Washington DC. Early HSR success would attract more funding for Phase 2, Stamford-New Haven-Providence-Boston segment and the second Hudson River railway tunnel.

The other shortcoming was that President Clinton did not fight for more Northeast Corridor HSR funds when the economy improved over his 8-year administration.

Around the world, 1st Generation HSR run at 124-143 mph (200-230 kph) over most of their route. For higher ridership that wants more time savings, 1st Generation HSR routes were upgraded to 155 mph (250 kph) 2nd Generation HSR routes or newly constructed as 2nd Generation HSR routes. France built more 186 mph (300 kph) 3rd Generation HSR routes.

When Acela launched in 2000, its 165 mph trains were hamstrung by half measures on new infrastructure and crippled by old infrastructure. In 17 miles of new infrastructure between suburban Boston and Providence, parallel tracks remained too close for passing trains. For safety, speed there was limited to 150 mph. Due to partial infrastructure upgrade on 50 miles between Newark and Trenton, speed there was limited to 135 mph. On the remaining 390 miles of Northeast Corridor, speed outside station area was limited to a disappointing 30-125 mph. News media complained that Acela failed to reach 165 mph as promised.

Highway and Aviation lobbies called on think tanks again to expound on Acela’s PR vulnerability. They issued a stream of articles and TV appearances to convince news media, Congress, governors and citizens that since Acela had issues, no further HSR infrastructure should be public funded. If that backstory interests you, see Amtrak Acela High Speed Rail Progress.

New Opportunity For Interstate High Speed Rail in America

American rail routes are mostly owned by freight rail companies and to lesser degree, by commuter transit agencies. By federal law and contractual agreements, freight rail companies and state commuter rail agencies lease track access to Amtrak at low fees. At usually less than 3 daily round trips per route, freight trains safely travel on 1 or 2 tracks at 20-60 mph. In urban areas, there are many places where autos, people and animals cross tracks, forcing trains to slow for safety. When freight rail shares the same track with Amtrak and commuter trains, passenger tran speed is rarely exceeds 80 mph.

Freight rail companies operate well under those conditions, so they have little incentive to upgrade. Commuter transit agencies want more railway over/underpasses for higher speeds, dependability and safety, but don’t have extra funds lying around. Excluding Northeast Corridor, those conditions limited Amtrak trains to 80 mph coupled with many Slow Zones of 60, 50, 40 and 30 mph. Amtrak service outside the Northeast Corridor was infrequent and less dependable. Train travel declined to such a degree that many routes were replaced by or had to compete with intercity buses.

Not long after President Bush II took over, he pounced on Amtrak’s slow speeds, infrequent trains and undependable schedules. He nearly killed Amtrak funding outside the Northeast Corridor. Fortunately, governors and congresspersons fought to preserve Amtrak. But once America entered two Middle East Wars, USDOT budget percentage for passenger rail dropped again.

The 9-11-2001 Terrorist Event, though a national tragedy, had a positive impact on Northeast Corridor HSR. Travelers became more irritated by security-check hassle for air travel. Compared to flying, Acela business travelers noticed a slight NYC-Washington travel time savings, higher schedule dependability and faster boarding/unboarding to seats. They appreciated more legroom, wide tray tables, electric outlets at each seat, a cafe cabin and restroom access. Acela and its sibling Northeast Regional HST, with more intermediate stops, combined for over 25 daily trains from 6am-8pm. Acela and Northeast Regional patrons avoided parking fees and long taxi rides from airport to CBD. They have higher capacity and more amenities than intercity buses.

Those factors made Northeast Corridor HSR more productive and comfortable than flying, intercity bus rides or driving. Acela became so popular by 2006, that Amtrak increased Business Class fares to match airline Business Class fares within the corridor. Northeast Regional fares remained competitive with airline Coach Class fares. Ridership growth enabled Amtrak Northeast Corridor HSR services to enter operating profit the same year.

President Obama Kickstarts Interstate High Speed Rail Beyond Northeast Corridor

Another Amtrak line improved its narrative after 2008. Amtrak Keystone in Philadelphia-Harrisburg corridor was upgraded from 80 mph and 6 daily diesel-powered trains to 110 mph and 13 daily electric-powered trains, more than doubling patronage. Sensing opportunity for similar transportation success, 37 governors and even more mayors of both parties adopted Amtrak-HSR upgrade plans. In 2009, President Obama received 259 state applications requesting $57 billion of USDOT funds for intercity passenger rail projects. Again, Congress only authorized a fraction of that amount.

President Obama doubled Metro Rail & Commuter Rail investment and directed $13 billion of economic stimulus funds and $2.5 billion of normal USDOT funds towards HSR and other Amtrak projects over 2009-10. It was the largest ever federal investment in intercity passenger rail. California also committed over $11 billion towards California HSR and California Amtrak projects. Several other states added $3 billion towards Amtrak projects.

At the urging of Vice President Biden, America’s first black president kick-started the Interstate High Speed Rail System amidst two Middle East wars and the Great Recession. His actions suggested a poetic bookend to President Lincoln, who authorized construction of the Transcontinental Railroad amidst the Civil War.

Since our 44,000-mile Interstate Highway System cost taxpayers over $1.5 trillion by then, President Obama knew that $6.2 billion of previous Northeast Corridor investment and $30 billion of new federal & state investment would only be a kickstart towards an Interstate HSR System to serve 80% of American population. So in 2011, he proposed another $53 billion/6 years of federal funding to attract more state, local and private funding to various HSR projects to open between 2015-25.

Initial successes would make it easier for the next Congress, presidents and governors to increase annual funding for more HSR projects to open between 2025-40. Each HSR corridor would glue together in a comprehensive HSR system. If that scale of funding was authorized, the Interstate HSR System would create a legacy for President Obama similar to the Interstate Highway System for President Eisenhower.

More important than legacy vanities, Americans desperately needed jobs to emerge faster from the 2008 Great Recession. Governors, mayors, labor unions, infrastructure builders and Chambers of Commerce warmed to HSR. Most airlines and big construction companies stopped their public opposition to HSR. The automotive industry stopped its opposition, assuming the next U.S. Surface Transportation Bill would also fix highways and bridges. Since the multi-year U.S. Surface Transportation Bill was coming up for congressional vote, Obama believed timing was right to expand the Interstate HSR System and Rapid Transit, while repairing Interstate Highways and their bridges.

Electric power generation will increasingly come from nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar and hydroelectric power — not coal or oil. The Automotive industry and car rental companies could adapt to electric cars and buses. Highway and airport infrastructure builders could adapt to railway infrastructure building. Nuclear power plants would benefit from more electricity demand. In contrast to them, coal & oil industries do see an easy transition to electricity. Though natural gas is the largest replacement for coal-fueled electric power plants, Coal and Oil companies protect their income statements by prolonging outdated views of America’s energy future.

Unfortunately, President Obama underestimated how much the Coal and Oil industries would influence Congress after 2010.

Interstate HSR Map, 2019

2019 U.S. Intercity Passenger Rail Map; source USDOT

Though the coal industry is dying, it had an outsized number of U.S. Senators in “coal states” slowing its death. And prior to the 2020 pandemic, the oil & gas industry became richer. Both industries redoubled federal and TV influence to stop HSR projects, limit electric Rapid Transit growth and slow modernization of America’s power grid. For example, Wall Street Journal explains how oil & gas industry influence prevented modernization of Texas electric grid.

Despite President Obama’s annual proposals to expand Amtrak-HSR after 2010, a Congressional majority would not approve sufficient funding. There was some good news. The 2009-2010 kickstart investments by Obama and several governors modestly paid off.

Amtrak and governors gathered just enough funding to upgrade more miles for 36 miles between Boston and eastern Connecticut to reach 150 mph. Other lines in the Northeast, California, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon upgraded a number of Slow Zones. Before leaving office on 20 January 2017, President Obama squeezed out a loan for new Acela trains and a small grant to upgrade 24 miles of HSR route in New Jersey to reach 160 mph in 2021. Northeast Corridor HSR was driving Amtrak’s operating budget towards breakeven, then in March 2020, the Pandemic Shutdown cratered the economy and train ridership until its end.

Government & Highway Lobby Crippled America’s Transportation Alternatives

In summary, Highway and Aviation lobbies convinced federal, state and local governments to lavishly fund highways and airports after World War II. The same lobbies convinced federal and state governments to cripple interstate passenger rail and limit Rapid Transit investment. Congress & President Nixon founded Amtrak to save interstate passenger rail. But Congress failed Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama, who each envisioned world-class HSR projects. By limiting HSR to small segments of the Northeast Corridor, America’s airport and highway infrastructure produce more air pollution and place a Traffic Congestion Tax on every American that also limits jobs.

In the next part of this narrative journey, see how and why Global Economic Competitors aggressively develop HSR for 21st century advantages.


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