Interstate High-Speed Rail

Why is Interstate High-Speed Rail a big deal for us? credit Andra C Taylor, Jr.

Interstate High Speed Rail Progress

Interstate High-Speed Rail is a big deal for America because it represents an economic boost and convenient high-capacity travel in large regions. High-Speed Rail will anchor Amtrak Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail & Bus Rapid Transit to complete Sustainable Passenger Transportation infrastructure that helps slow Global Warming. Did I mention that Sustainable Passenger Transportation infrastructure will create several million jobs too? – Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America Travel

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In the 19th Century, America built most of its Seaport and Railroad infrastructure that enabled the world’s largest freight movement in the Industrial Age. To the Railroad industry, Passenger service represented bonus revenue on the same tracks. American cities added large Streetcar systems for workers and students.

In the 20th Century, America became the world’s only superpower after World War II. Our political leaders met the challenge of funding Highway and Aviation infrastructure for a fast-growing “Automobile-Jet Culture” that expanded suburbs and created millions of jobs.

In the 21st Century, Global Warming and other factors are forcing every leading nation to build electric-powered Sustainable Passenger Transportation (High-Speed Rail, Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, Metro Light Rail, Buses & Cars) coupled with more Sustainable Energy (Wind, Solar, Biofuels, Geothermal) powering electric grids before 2050.

The communist government of China has weak personal property & worker rights. Combined with gargantuan financial commitment, China has built robust Sustainable Passenger Transportation networks in 25 years. The democratic governments of Japan, South Korea, and Western Europe have strong personal property & worker rights. They’ve taken 40-60 years to build robust Sustainable Passenger Transportation networks.

America must look to advanced democracies for leadership on Sustainable Passenger Transportation. Excluding the section titles below, bolded words link to articles or videos that add insights to the journey we must take.

America’s Big Fail at Sustainable Transportation

Intercity Passenger Rail comprises High-Speed Rail (HSR) and Regional Rail. Anyone who rode HSR and Regional Rail in Japan, South Korea, and/or Western Europe knows that America sucks at those Transportation modes. Their HSR speeds are 143-199 mph and Regional Rail speeds are 99-137 mph.

As of 1H 2024, America has only 60 HSR miles capable of 150 mph and less than 500 Regional Rail miles capable of 110 mph. How did the world’s richest and most technologically advanced country fail at Intercity Passenger Rail?

America 2050 High-Speed Rail Vision Map

America 2050 High-Speed Rail Map; source

After the Vietnam War ended in 1974, it freed up taxpayer funds. If America accelerated HSR & Regional Rail investment then, by 2020 our Interstate HSR System would look like Phase 3 of the America 2050 High-Speed Rail Map combining red, tan, and yellow lines. From 2021-2040, more Regional grey lines would be upgrading to electric-powered Regional Rail or converting to HSR for a system accessible to 98% of Americans.

It’s no mystery why we failed. American political leaders invested $2 trillion in Highways and $777 billion in Aviation but only $10 billion in Amtrak and other Passenger Rail projects from 1949 to 2017. Their narrow Transportation vision allowed Intercity Passenger Rail to atrophy.

We equally failed to upgrade & expand Rapid Transit. Less than $300 billion went to Transit, mostly to local buses and school buses. As a result, too many counties downscaled Metro Heavy Rail projects to lower capacity, slower Metro Light Rail. Too many counties shelved or downscaled Metro Light Rail projects to lower capacity, slower Bus Rapid Transit. The cheapest funded option was low-frequency, diesel-powered Commuter Rail.

The adverse results are excessive regional flights, lost worker productivity due to highway congestion, less access to jobs by people without cars, more accidents, persistently high smog levels, and more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Only NYC Metro Area has comprehensive HSR, Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, Metro Heavy Rail, and Metro Light Rail with high service frequency. One result is the Big Apple has less ozone & GHG emissions than 11 metro areas having one-half to 1/25th of its 21 million population size.

Sustainable Energy, Necessary for Sustainable Transportation

There is some good news. America is accelerating Sustainable Energy development. Most power plants fueled by coal and oil have switched to natural gas, wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Wind & solar energy have grown even faster in the last 10 years.

Though electricity consumption in all economic sectors is accelerating, we are not building & upgrading Sustainable Energy infrastructure fast enough. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, our electric grid loses 65% of its energy and limits the amount of solar energy sent to it from other sectors of the economy. Some mega-regions experience Brown-outs too.

We must upgrade our electric grid to meet those challenges.

America’s geography and population density are more similar to Western Europe than Japan and South Korea. Let’s take a closer look across the Atlantic for aspirational ideas about Sustainable Transportation and Sustainable Energy Infrastructure.

Western Europe 21st Century Transportation & Smart Land Zoning

In 1974, France and Italy accelerated electric-powered Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit investments. In the 1980s-90s, The United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands did likewise. Today, their Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit bring multitudes into vibrant train stations without billowing exhaust.

Unlike American cities that zone large parking lots or garages around most stations, Western European nations zone hotel, retail, residential, and commercial development in & around stations. In a virtuous cycle, Western Europeans need fewer Cars Per Household for better mobility than Americans.

Western Europe has slightly different, but more accurate descriptions for Rapid Transit modes. Metro Light Rail is called “Trams.” Metro Heavy Rail is called “Metro Rail.” Commuter Rail is called “Suburban Rail.” Western Europe is expanding Trams in 250,000+ population metro areas, expanding Metro Rail in 1+ million population metro areas, and enhancing Suburban Rail in all metro areas.

According to a 2017 Bloomberg report, 40-75% of European metro areas having 1+ million population use Rapid Transit. That 1 million population size is similar to the Tulsa Metro Area in Oklahoma. Suburban Rail, Metro Rail & Tram networks combined with residential, commercial & retail development in & around stations prompted Western European cities to restore more heritage sites as job-creating tourism attractions.

Western Europe proves that HSR is best for 250-1000 kilometer (255-621 miles) Trips and Regional Rail is best for 50-400 kilometer (31-249 miles) Trips, give or take. Western Europe also proved that connecting many corridors of 500,000+ population urban areas every 100-250 kilometers (62-155 miles) with HSR rides significantly increases ridership. They embrace HSR and Regional Rail to reduce short-haul (31-621 mile) regional flights, limit highway widening & accidents, and reduce automotive Smog & GHG emissions.

This High-Speed Rail Alliance chart also illustrates how HSR reduces emissions and energy consumption compared to Highway Travel and Air Travel Modes in the 410-mile Paris-Lyon-Marseille Corridor.

Paris to Marseille Emissions and Energy for HSR vs. Car vs. Airplane

Paris to Marseille Carbon Emissions & Energy Usage for HSR vs. Car vs. Airplane; credit High-Speed Rail Alliance

America Can Still Balance Its Passenger Transportation Infrastructure

In this multi-part series, I illuminate the WHY, HOW and WHERE America needs a bold, yet practical Interstate Plan for Sustainable Passenger Transportation and Sustainable Energy infrastructure before 2050.

Part 1 of this series summarizes how select industries have sabotaged and most American politicians have undervalued Passenger Rail and Streetcars since World War II ended.

Part 2 of this series summarizes the outstanding Benefits over Costs that Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, and others experience from HSR & Regional Rail investments.

Part 3 of this series summarizes how Transportation and Energy sector smog emissions are serious public health issues. The Takeaway is GHG emissions have reached a tipping point in Global Warming.

Part 4 of this series summarizes the good, the bad & the ugly of regional flights, intercity buses, freight trucks, and our electric grid. It also summarizes the public insanity of widening highways beyond 10 lanes.

Widening more freeways is like an alcoholic trying to get sober by ordering another round

Part 5 of this series summarizes how the acceleration of Rapid Transit projects will bring more space-efficient capacity & green mobility options to our Metro Areas as America grows from 330 million population in 2020 to 390 million by 2050.

Part 6 of this series, this page, summarizes HOW and WHERE Interstate HSR & Regional Rail lines should begin connecting our Top Metro Areas. Come along for the journey.

High-Speed Rail, Top Dog of Sustainable Passenger Transportation

Electric-powered HSR is the apex of Sustainable Passenger Transportation. It has the highest capacity and most space-efficient mobility for high-population corridors. One high-speed train can transport as many passengers as six Boeing 737 regional jets without emitting GHG & Smog. Though slower than HSR, electric-powered Regional Rail also represents high-capacity, space-efficient mobility for medium-population corridors.

Since population growth is concentrated in America’s Top 192 Metro Areas of 250,000+ population located in 30-to-600-mile corridors, we have the same HSR & Regional Rail opportunity that Western Europe has accelerated since 1974.

The International Union of Railways (UIC) posts Intercity Passenger Rail speeds in kilometers per hour (kph), which I translate to miles per hour (mph). Though UIC recognized 200 kph (124 mph) as the minimum speed for 1st Generation HSR, it now asserts 250 kph (155 mph) as the minimum speed for 2nd Generation HSR. The UIC also recognizes the growth of 3rd Generation HSR operating at 300 kph (186 mph).

To build robust Sustainable Passenger Transportation networks by 2050, we must accelerate Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit projects using best practices mastered by Western Europe.

If you’d like train-nerd details of how their speed, capacity, frequency, reliability, and safety are achieved, see Interstate Passenger Rail Taxonomy, which can also be called an Intercity Passenger Rail Taxonomy.

France, A Sustainable Passenger Transportation & Smart Electric Grid Model

Due to conditions most similar to populous corridors in America, France should be our primary model for Sustainable Passenger Transportation. HSR, Regional Rail, Suburban Rail, Metro Rail, Trams, and Electric Buses increased electricity demand in France. Those Transportation modes forced France to begin upgrading to a Smart Electric Grid sooner than most.

France is slightly larger than Texas with twice as many people as the Lone Star State. It has about 40 metro areas of 250,000+ population. The largest metro (urban) areas are spaced 100-600 miles apart.

In 2019, Amtrak’s combination of Northeast Corridor HSR, Regional & Long-Distance trains attracted 33 million passengers. In contrast, French HSR, Regional Rail & Long-Distance trains attracted 1.3 billion passengers. How did a country with 1/6th of America’s population and 11% of its GDP do it?

After World War II, France tasked its SNCF transportation agency to restore railways and repair old train stations in Paris, Lyon, Lille, and Marseille. In 1955, France launched its National Tollway System limited to mostly 4-lanes. Since people pay for each usage, a lower percentage of the population rides its well-maintained National Tollway System. Most French cities preserved their Streetcar systems. Some also added electric buses that feature overhead wires like Streetcars.

At the same time, America let most train stations decay while expanding an Interstate Highway System dominated by freeways. Since we keep widening them, a higher percentage of residents and travelers crowd our freeways.

Our federal & state politicians ignored signs to make smarter, balanced Transportation infrastructure decisions 50 years ago. Nor would politicians increase the federal gas tax. Consequently, too many freeway surfaces & bridges were under-maintained by year 2000.

After Japan introduced a 210 kph (130 mph) electric-powered HSR route in 1964, France modestly increased SNCF’s budget for their first HSR project. SNCF began acquiring Rights-Of-Way (ROW) property for straighter embankments, tunnels, and viaducts to support high-speed passenger trains. SNCF named its first High-Speed Line between Paris and its 2nd largest city, Lyon, the “Ligne à Grande Vitesse.” Travelers call it LGV.

SNCF hired Alstom, a private French train maker, to build the world’s fastest passenger trains. Alstom’s initial R&D focused on a high-speed train powered by a jet engine. That approach was sensible because oil-based jet fuel has a high energy density and imported oil was cheap & plentiful.

Jet Train showed promise when it reached 270 kph (168 mph) on the LGV test track. That promise vanished in October 1973.

To the unpleasant surprise of France, Italy, America, and other nations that backed Israel in a Middle East war, OPEC slapped an oil embargo on them. It hit the French economy particularly hard because that nation doesn’t produce much domestic oil.

Though France had one of the world’s Top 5 Automotive industries in the 1970s, its government pivoted to less dependency on imported oil by constructing more nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. Simultaneously, the French National Authority for Health pushed to reduce coal-fueled power plants because they emit dangerous levels of smog that increase lung disease.

In 1974, these French Transportation policies accelerated:

• Conversion of Streetcars to higher-capacity Trams in dedicated lanes with traffic signal priority
• Construction of Metro Rail lines in the Top 7 metro areas
• Conversion of diesel-powered Suburban Rail & Regional Rail to electric-power
• Conversion of High-Speed Train R&D to electric-power

SNCF spun off an agency to manage the Train à Grande Vitesse (High-Speed Train) project commonly called TGV. Once an electric-powered TGV demonstrated that it could sustain 270 kph (168 mph) on an LGV test track in 1979, a sequence of Intercity Passenger Rail milestones unfolded:

In 1981, TGV began operating up to 270 kph on LGV in the 391 kilometers (243 miles) between Paris and Lyon.

In 1988, SNCF upgraded the Paris-Lyon LGV, enabling TGV to reach 300 kph (186 mph).

In 1994, France & the UK opened the 51-kilometer (31 miles) English Channel Tunnel, enabling Eurostar HSR in the Paris-Lille-London corridor.

In 1996, SNCF and the National Railway Company of Belgium opened 300 kph Thalys HSR in the Paris-Lille-Brussels corridor.

In 2001, SNCF extended the first LGV to 660 kilometers (410 miles), enabling a 3-hour trip time in the Paris-Lyon-Marseille corridor.

In 2007, SNCF introduced a 400 kph (249 mph) 4th Generation HSR route generically called “Nextgen LGV” and upgraded TGV to reach 320 kph (199 mph) on Nextgen LGV.

By 2016, the Global Warming threat, higher electric train manufacturing, and higher Intercity Passenger Rail & Rapid Transit ridership inspired France to begin Smart Electric Grid upgrades to prevent energy loss and reliably manage higher electricity demand from many sources. As more infrastructure is built and more low-cost Wind & Solar energy enters the Smart Electric Grid, it gradually drives Electricity Cost Per Unit lower.

In 2021, Alstom purchased Bombardier and became the world’s 2nd largest train maker. Train-related jobs are as important to the French as Automobile-related jobs to Americans.

Alstom, SNCF, and transit agencies in France are on pace for 100% electric HSR, Regional Rail, Suburban Rail, Metro Rail & Trams between and within Large (3-12 million pop.), Medium (1.0-2.99 million pop.), and Small (250K-999K pop.) metro areas by 2040.

Higher Speeds Lengthen Intercity Passenger Rail Distances

This Speed-Distance Chart approximates Average Speeds deduced from HSR & Regional Rail Top Speeds for 3 & 3.5-hour Ride Distances. Average Speeds include “Rule-of-Thumb” distances between stops, brief route slowdowns, and slower speeds entering & exiting stations. Average Speeds by HSR & Regional Rail attract high ridership when they produce more Total Trip Time Savings than Air Travel (time to airport, airport queues, flight time, time from airport to destination).

3-Hour Rule Distances for Intercity Passenger Rail

Excluding the shrinking “No Speed Limit” sections on Germany’s Autobahn, tollway speed limits in Western Europe have stabilized at 120-130 kph (75-81 mph) to cut accidents and reduce emissions. Simultaneously, five related trends are mode-shifting more travelers to Intercity Passenger Rail for Trip Time & Cost Savings:

• More 160-180 kph (99-112 mph) Regional Rail routes are upgrading to 200-220 kph (124-137 mph)
• Many 240-250 kph (149-155 mph) HSR routes are upgrading to 260-270 kph (162-168 mph)
• Most new HSR routes are designed for 280, 300, 320, 350 & 360 kph (174, 186, 199, 317 & 224 mph) operations
• More nations are introducing cheap HSR fares to better compete with cheap regional flights
• Metro Areas are expanding Rapid Transit lines to train stations.

Since Paris is one of the world’s most attractive tourist destinations, Paris CDG Airport will always be busy. Tourism in France’s second-largest metro area, Lyon, is also growing via frequent TGV service and its east-central location in France.

The French government and tourism bureau want to spread more international tourism around France. To help meet that goal, France is also spending 100 billion Euros on web-like Regional Rail upgrades before 2040.

At the same time, France is committed to eliminating regional flights between its 50 largest metro areas reaching 250K+ population by 2040. As some LGVs extend up to 1000 kilometers, SNCF and TGV management learned that high ridership continued up to 4 hours because most journeys have different origins & endpoints that last only 1 to 3.5 hours. Many travelers also want to avoid the extra cost & traffic delays of Airport-City Center Taxi and Uber rides.

With insights from Speed-Distance Charts, Alstom, TGV, and SNCF reasoned that next-generation high-speed trains reaching 360 kph (224 mph) Top Speed and nearly 290 kph (180 mph) Average Speed should further reduce regional flights.

Like testing delays experienced by next-gen jets from Boeing and Airbus, the testing delay bug hit Alstom’s next-gen high-speed train for TGV. Consequently, they will introduce it to commercial operation after the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. Though branded TGV M in France, it’s marketed as Avelia Horizon for global sales. TGV M weighs 30% less and is 20% more energy efficient than current TGV. Maintenance costs are projected to be lower as well.

The combination of TGV M, LGV, and web-like Regional Rail expansion will connect Paris and Lyon to the Top 25 Destinations in France in under 3.5 hours by 2035.

The Eco-Travel Market also prefers 1-seat TGV rides up to 4 hours for greater reduction of GHG & Smog emissions than Air Travel.

Total Benefits Over Costs Point to Higher TGV M Speeds

TGV M has a certified top speed of 400 kph (249 mph) to match Nextgen LGV certified top speed, but TGV management planned commercial operation 10% slower at 360 kph (224 mph) for lower energy & maintenance costs. France would still reclaim the world title for “Fastest conventional-wheel train in commercial operation.”

As leader of the Paris Climate Agreement since 2016, France has practically replaced coal-fueling electric power plants with nuclear, hydroelectric, natural gas, geothermal, wind & solar energy. That bold accomplishment helped produce one of the smallest per-capita GHG & Smog emission footprints of any advanced nation.

To demonstrate even lower emissions and higher energy efficiency per mile, TGV and SNCF revised TGV M’s planned introduction for commercial operation down to 320 kph (199 mph).

A byproduct of the Russia-Ukraine War is limiting natural gas supplies to Europe. That war is inspiring France to build wind, solar & geothermal projects faster and complete its Smart Electric Grid by 2035. That year, France will also ban new car sales that burn gasoline or diesel fuel.

The UIC has calculated Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions of TGV vs. Car and Airplane in France. Their analysis concludes that the life-cycle CO2 footprint of LGV (HSR) track construction, train construction, and operation is 14 to 16 times lower than by automobile or airplane.

Given France’s leadership in lowering fossil fuel consumption and accelerating Sustainable Energy projects, I “guesstimate” that nation will prioritize eliminating more regional flights by 2027-28. They can do so by increasing TGV M to 340 kph (211 mph) Top Speed on Next-gen LGV to connect more cities without excessive energy & maintenance costs.

TGV in southern France is being upgraded to the Spanish border. Germany is upgrading HSR route speeds from Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, and Mannheim to meet Nextgen LGV at two French borders. The Netherlands is upgrading HSR route speeds from Rotterdam to Brussels. Higher speeds in 1-seat rides up to 3.5 hours will enable TGV, Eurostar, and ICE to complete more daily round trips with the same staff for higher profits.

Those upgrades over 2027-2035 will enhance the business case to operate TGV M up to 360 kph (224 mph) to convert even more travelers in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands to 1-seat HSR rides up to 3.5 hours, particularly for business travel.

By further cutting regional flights, France will meet more Paris Climate Agreement and French National Authority for Health goals by 2035. Making TGV M the world’s fastest conventional wheel train would also be good PR for Alstom’s global sales.

There’s a matter of national pride too. France introduced the first trains certified for commercial operation at 300 kph (186 mph) and 360 kph (224 mph), and the first HSR route certified for 400 kph (249 mph) in commercial operation. But no one speaks of France as having the world’s fastest trains anymore.

Last decade Japan matched France with 320 kph (199 mph) trains in commercial operation. In 2017, China became the world speed leader with 350 kph (217 mph) of conventional wheel trains in commercial operation. Japan, California, and the United Kingdom are building HSR routes whose trains will run up to 350-354 kph (217-220 mph) in commercial operation when they debut over 2029-2031.

The French and British maintain a long rivalry of bragging rights over things large and small. Given intense national pride in TGV and lower electricity costs from its Smart Electric Grid, I can’t imagine France allowing the United Kingdom to boast that it has a faster train.

Anticipate TGV M being unleashed up to 360 kph (224 mph) on Nextgen LGV by 2032. Only time will tell if I guesstimate correctly.

More Best Practices from German, Italian, Swiss & Spanish HSR

Since Germany has a denser population than France, it prioritized building a web-like network of 170-250 kph (106-155 mph) Regional Rail & HSR mileage which attracts more passengers than French Regional Rail & HSR, per the European Union. Germany is now upgrading speeds for many early Regional Rail and HSR routes, building 280 & 300 kph HSR routes, and working on faster border connections to French, Belgian, Netherlands, Swiss, Danish & Swedish Passenger Rail.

To connect more cities to Rome in under 3.5 hours, Trenitalia rail agency is upgrading its core Rome-Florence HSR segment to 270 kph (168 mph). In Italy, privately owned Italo high-speed trains compete with state-owned Trenitalia high-speed trains.

Switzerland built 15-, 22- & 35-mile rail tunnels under the Alps that are certified for electric passenger trains to operate commercially at 220-230 kph (137-143 mph).

The Spanish government prioritizes Intercity Passenger Rail expansion over Highway expansion. For construction speed, it keeps most HSR & Regional Rail project engineering within its Renfe rail agency and permits Renfe to build some stations outside the center of small cities.

Those practices and grants from the European Union Transportation Fund allow Renfe to continuously build HSR faster and cheaper than everywhere else in Europe. As of today, Spain has the most HSR mileage in Europe.

HSR Train Frequency & Schedule Reliability Impact Ridership

Switzerland is only 22% larger than Maryland. That small Alpine country doesn’t need 186 mph trains for domestic travel. Its 6 largest cities are each less than 50 miles apart in a single corridor.

Switzerland achieved ridership success by upgrading Intercity Passenger Rail to 180-230 kph (112-143 mph) top speeds combined with high train frequency on 98% reliable Clock-Face Scheduling. Patrons have no “Wait Anxiety” because the next train comes every 15 or 30 minutes from 5:00 am to Midnight between Winterthur, Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lausanne, and Geneva.

Though France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium & the Netherlands HSR easily beat the schedule reliability of flights, they are striving for 96-97% schedule reliability and 36-76 daily roundtrips in high-population corridors and 24-34 daily roundtrips in medium-population corridors by decade-end.

Western European nations are collectively reducing demand for regional flights. They don’t hate Commercial Aviation. Western European governments want airports and airlines to focus on fast-growing 1000+ Kilometer flights demanded by travelers.

Prioritize Interstate HSR Projects To Open Between 2029-38

America has the Western Europe “Cheat Code” to skip over 1st generation HSR routes to build 2nd, 3rd & 4th generation HSR routes. Let’s examine Interstate HSR routes that can be Amtrak-owned, state-owned or private-owned.

1st Public HSR Funding Priority

The Northeast Region of America has 45 million residents and attracts the most visitors. It has the most Rapid Transit lines connecting to Northeast Corridor train stations that are also being upgraded. Nextgen Acela trains debut in late 2024. That partly explains why Amtrak Northeast Corridor received $16 billion in 2023 of a $30 billion USDOT commitment for its Phase 1 Upgrade.

Amtrak is upgrading 36 miles in the Boston-Southeastern Connecticut segment and 24 miles in New Brunswick-Trenton segment for Nextgen Acela to reach 160 mph. Nextgen Acela’s title feature will also enable 10-12 mph speed boosts over some mileage currently limited to 120-125 mph. The Acela Washington-NYC 2-hour 51-minute Trip Time posted in 2024 should be reduced to 2 hours 41 minutes. Acela Boston-NYC’s 3-hour 35-minute Trip Time should be reduced to 3 hours 29 minutes.

I’m underwhelmed by the Top Speed and Trip Time Savings of this Phase 1 upgrade in 2024. Travelers will, however, appreciate higher train frequencies, a smoother ride, and a better on-board experience. Amtrak plans to add more cabins per Acela train for lower-cost Coach fares too.

By 2035, completed tunnels, bridges, track, and electric power upgrades will improve speeds, schedule reliability, and adapt more infrastructure for sea level rise. By then Acela NYC-Washington Trip Time will likely reduce to 2 hours 28 minutes. Acela Boston-NYC Trip Time will likely reduce to 3 hours 10 minutes.

Amtrak’s goal is for most mileage in the 457-mile corridor to support 140, 160, 180 & 200 mph operating speeds and 96-97% schedule reliability. Thus, Northeast Corridor Phase 2 calls for two 200 mph bypasses, more curve straightening, another railway bridge between Newark and the Hudson River, and complete electrical upgrades. Those upgrades should produce an attractive 1-hour 50-minute Acela Washington-NYC Trip Time and a 2-hour 15-minute NYC-Boston Trip Time.

We’ve been working on Amtrak Northeast Corridor since 1993. Our federal & state leaders should accelerate funding in 2026 for Phase 2 completion by 2038.

2nd Public HSR Funding Priority

The 500-mile California HSR Phase 1 project covers the San Francisco-Anaheim corridor with a north-central spur up to Merced. When complete, it will showcase 220 mph from Merced to Palmdale segment and up to 110 mph in urban areas for a San Francisco-Los Angeles 2 hour 40 minute Express trip time.

France attracted more annual riders than it has residents by making at least one TGV ride per year attractive to residents and visitors. Regional flight delays in California are increasing. For those reasons, California HSR should attract 31 million annual riders by 2040 as the state reaches 40 million population and more visitors come to the state.

Critics jeer slow construction progress for the California HSR project despite USDOT only contributing 15% of the cost. Even with the recent $3.3 billion in federal grants, USDOT has only contributed 24% of the cost to date. Given that USDOT funded 90-80% of the Interstate Highway System cost for 3 decades, critics should pen their venom at the lack of federal grants for the California HSR project.

One more thing. Major Highway, Airport, HSR, and Rapid Transit projects take a long time to build. For example, California is a well-oiled machine in terms of Highway projects. But even a 7-mile I-5 Highway Widening project in Los Angeles took 11 years to complete. So we should not be surprised that a new 500-mile Phase 1 HSR project with tunnels & viaducts may take 30 years to complete.

Despite federal underfunding, the 171-mile Merced-Bakersfield HSR segment in Central California is on pace to begin commercial operation in 2030. Many Amtrak San Joaquin riders from Oakland and Sacramento will transfer at California HSR Merced Station for high-speed rides south to Fresno, Kings/Tulare, and Bakersfield.

I predict that the California HSR project will receive federal, state & county funding to extend from Central California to San Jose, build more railroad overpasses in the San Jose-San Francisco segment, and build the rail tunnel into downtown San Francisco.

Unfortunately, I can’t predict when enough federal funding will arrive.

1st Private-Public HSR Project Priority

Los Angeles-Las Vegas corridor has the most regional flights in America. Brightline West just received a $3 billion federal grant to combine with over $8 billion private funding for its planned 185 mph train service from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, a suburb 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

Brightline West plans to construct the 218-mile Las Vegas-Victor Valley-Rancho Cucamonga HSR corridor in 4 years by using mostly I-15 Freeway median.

Brightline West has several years of planning and California HSR insights to minimize mistakes on this mega-project. Despite the best planning, unexpected things will likely add 1 year to construction time. Afterward, 9-12 months of systems testing is typically required for public utility certification. Therefore, I anticipate Brightline West opening in late-2029 or early-2030.

It will draw ridership from nearly 7 million residents in eastern Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and Orange County. For most, Total Trip Time (including drives to/from Rancho Cucamonga) to the Las Vegas Strip will be 3 hours or less.

Later in the 2030s, Brightline West would like to extend HSR tracks from Victor Valley to Palmdale, then switch to California HSR tracks for 1-seat train rides into Burbank Airport Intermodal Station and Los Angeles Union Station in less than 3 hours.

3rd Public HSR-Regional Rail Funding Priority

Chicago is the hub of five major passenger rail corridors. The three largest corridors connect 24 million people in Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Milwaukee corridors have ideal spacing for HSR service. Though small Amtrak Regional upgrades were completed in the 2010s, their train speeds & frequencies remain too low to attract high ridership.

Amtrak Hiawatha trains from Milwaukee only reach 79 mph in the 86 miles to Chicago with 7 weekday roundtrips that terminate at the north concourse of Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak Wolverine trains from Detroit only reach 110 mph in part of the 237 miles to Chicago with 3 weekday roundtrips terminating at the south concourse of Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak Lincoln & Missouri Runner trains from St. Louis only reach 110 mph in part of the 284 miles to Chicago with 5 weekday roundtrips terminating at the south concourse of Chicago Union Station.

The main concourse of Chicago Union Station has cramped boarding platforms. Oglivie Transit Station hosts Chicago Metro Rail and some Chicago Metra Commuter Rail trains 2 blocks north. The two stations do not connect tracks & platforms for easy transfers. South of Chicago Union Station, Amtrak, and commuter trains cross a maze of freight rail tracks that slow speeds and frequencies for passengers and delay freight movements.

The Chicago Hub Improvement Program (CHIP) just received a $900 million USDOT grant to combine with state, county & city funding to fix Chicago Union Station and better connect with Oglivie Transit Station. In the next round of USDOT funding, the railway maze of the south of Chicago Union Station should receive a USDOT grant for a Crosstown Connector and more miles of 100-110 mph passenger track between O’Hare Airport, downtown Chicago, and all points south. Train frequencies to Detroit and St. Louis will rise to 8-10 daily round trips, like the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

That’s nowhere close to the infrastructure needed for 3 HSR corridors over flat land with ideal spacing between metro areas. Nor does it extend from Milwaukee to Madison and Minneapolis and extend from St. Louis to Kansas City. Chicago Hub needs $60-70 billion to upgrade the 284-mile Chicago-Gary-Kalamazoo-Ann Arbor-Detroit corridor, 354-mile Minneapolis-Madsion-Milwaukee-Chicago corridor, and 412-mile Chicago-Springfield-St. Louis-Kansas City corridor.

The Benefits over Costs justify 160-180-200 mph HSR, 110-125 mph Regional Rail, and high train frequencies in the Chicago-Midwest region for ridership like HSR & Regional Rail in France.

4th Public HSR Funding Priority

Southeast HSR in the Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte-Greenville-Atlanta corridor has over 20 million population in the nation’s fastest-growing mega-region. In 2023, the Washington-Richmond-Raleigh segment received $1.8 billion in federal grants to combine with a couple billion more from Amtrak, Virginia, and North Carolina.

Highlights of this funding cycle are a second railway bridge across the Potomac River, mild curve-straitening between Washington DC and Richmond, and the purchase of S-Line freight rail corridor (below) to create a straighter Passenger Rail route between Richmond and Raleigh.

Raleigh-Richmond S-Line Map

Raleigh-Richmond S-Line Map; source North Carolina Department of Transportation

When the project is completed, Amtrak plans commercial operation up to 110 mph and 10-12 daily roundtrips in the corridor. Compared to Intercity Passenger Rail in Western Europe, this project is another disappointment.

Given the corridor’s population size, growth rate, and spacing between large metro areas, it’s ideal for 160-180-200 mph speeds and 36 daily roundtrip HSR services to cut highway congestion and regional flights. To accommodate such speeds, more property acquisition is needed before more development jacks up ROW costs.

When will the Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte-Greenville-Atlanta corridor receive enough federal & state funding to become a ridership difference-maker that cuts highway congestion and regional flights?

2nd Private HSR Project Priority

Another private company, Texas Central Railway wants to break ground on a 205 mph Dallas-Houston HSR route serving the fast-growing 16+ million-person 240-mile corridor. Stations are currently planned a few blocks south of downtown Dallas and in North Houston. Texas Central plans to build Transportation-Oriented Development on land it owns next to stations.

When complete, this project will anchor extensions from Dallas to Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City.

Until Texas Central overcomes local NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) obstacles preventing Environmental Clearance and ROW Acquisition, Engineering Design and Construction Start is delayed. Perhaps its recent Amtrak partnership will help break the logjam.

Accelerate More HSR Projects To Enter Construction

The Federal Railroad Administration has been studying HSR projects in growing corridors outside the Northeast Corridor and California-Las Vegas since the 2000s. Many HSR routes planned for 110 & 125 mph Top Speeds with under 10 daily roundtrips need at least 160 mph Top Speed with 26+ daily roundtrips. If federal leaders get funding priorities in order, more states, counties, cities, and private investors will also join in for these HSR projects to Enter Construction over 2026-29:

• Philadelphia-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Toledo
• Gary-Fort Wayne-Toledo-Detroit
• Gary-Lafayette-Indianapolis-Louisville-Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta
• Portland-Seattle-Vancouver
• NYC-Albany
• Cheyenne-Fort Collins-Denver-Colorado Springs

Combined with HSR projects named earlier for 13 HSR projects in 9 mega-regions, the majority of Americans would believe that a robust Interstate High-Speed Rail System is underway.

Upgrades for Public & Private Regional Rail

Pre-COVID, most of the 25 state-supported Amtrak Regional routes increased annual ridership. Several routes merit the HSR upgrades. The remainder running in sub-250-mile corridors merit Western Europe-style Regional Rail upgrades.

Amtrak’s 3rd highest ridership Regional Rail route (LA-Norwalk-Anaheim-Irvine-Oceanside-San Diego) is a prime example. With only 128 miles between the 19 million population Los Angeles Metro Area and the 3.4 million population San Diego Metro Area, the corridor has massive rail ridership potential.

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink commuter rail, COASTER commuter rail, and freight rail share that corridor. Some freight rail goes from San Diego Seaport to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in northern San Diego County. Later this decade, Los Angeles Union Station will have run-thru tracks that shave several minutes from train schedules.

Though Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink, and COASTER have low-emission diesel-electric locomotives, corridor mileage has too much Single Track limiting train frequencies. Since coastal bluffs are eroding, nearby tracks often close during winter storms for emergency repairs.

At the current funding pace, the corridor’s Regional Rail upgrade would likely complete over 2042-44. Exhausted LA-San Diego commuters, travelers, and freight rail companies can’t wait that long.

The State of California, the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego, and a freight rail company recently committed more funds to this rail corridor. The corridor still needs large federal funding to remain open while upgrading to Regional Rail status that features electric trains, complete railroad over/underpasses, 3 tunnels away from coastal bluffs, and a new University of California San Diego Station by 2036.

Once the corridor reaches Regional Rail status, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink, and COASTER trains can sustain 110 mph and 76 daily roundtrips for 5X ridership compared to 2019. That will make a huge dent in traffic congestion Smog & GHG emissions on the adjacent I-5 Freeway.

Florida is fortunate to have the private-owned Brightline Florida Regional Rail operator between Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, and Orlando Airport with 16 daily round trips. Their station experience, low-emission diesel-electric trains, and onboard experience are top-shelf. Brightline fares are competitive with many airlines too. Later this decade, Brightline Florida will benefit from a new St. Lucie River Bridge and may expand to Disney Springs.

Brightline Florida can not, however, approach its ridership potential until it elevates the current 79 mph speed through urban areas and reaches 36 daily roundtrips. To safely reach higher speeds and frequency, another river bridge must be replaced, about 50 railroad overpasses must be built, 70-80 streets must be closed, and the entire route must be fenced.

Street closures are inexpensive, but nearly all railroad overpasses are public-owned and cost $80-125 million each. When more railroad overpasses and street closures are implemented, Brightline Florida can fence off tracks. Operating speeds can safely reach 110 mph in urban areas and 125 mph elsewhere.

Like other states, Florida must commit massive funding for railroad overpasses. Only then can Brightline Florida reach its speed, frequency, safety, schedule reliability, and ridership potential in the Disney Springs-Orlando Airport-West Palm Beach-Baca Raton-Fort Lauderdale-Aventura-Miami corridor.

A New Era for Sustainable Passenger Transportation?

In November 2021, the 5-year Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was signed. In 2022, the USDOT’s annual budget for Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit projects expanded too. Infrastructure Week was no longer a running joke. The larger USDOT budget for federal grants triggered states, counties, cities & private companies to announce more Intercity Passenger Rail and Rapid Transit projects.

My conclusion in Part 7 summarizes HOW much public & private funding is needed for robust Interstate High Speed Rail progress and upgraded Regional Rail.

Part 7: Interstate High Speed Rail Funding

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