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Ask Your Government: High-Speed Passenger Rail

By Ed O'Keefe

In the latest installment of the Ask Your Government series, The Eye answers a question from blog reader and Google Moderator member Rotunda, of Muncie, Ind.:

Ask Your Government

"America should build a nationwide high-speed (300+ mph) electric commuter train system that will connect every major city, (like the French TGV & Japan's Bullet Train) You can't hijack a train, They are greener than planes. Why not build this?"

The Eye's answer is above; leave your thoughts in the comments section below and then submit your question to the Ask Your Government series.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 6, 2009; 6:20 AM ET
Categories:  Ask Your Government, Video Report  
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Comments

Great idea. The airports and highways are too crowded. If France can do this (they can't even put a man on the moon!), then certainly a country as advanced as ours can do this.

Posted by: DROSE1 | February 6, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

One reason high speed rail works in Europe is that it is more densely populated. London -> Paris is a heckuva a lot shorter than NY ->Chicago.

Consider the Acela Express. Amtrak bought high speed trains, but there's no dedicated tracks. As a result, it's only slightly faster than regular rail.

Don't get me wrong. I love trains (and have been on the TGV, Eurostar, and Shinkansen). But this would be a VERY expensive proposition.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 6, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Farlington Blade Wrote:

One reason high speed rail works in Europe is that it is more densely populated. London -> Paris is a heckuva a lot shorter than NY ->Chicago.

My Comment:
That's comparing Apples and Oranges. London and Paris are further apart than, for example, Washington and New York. Paris to Rome is further than NY or Washington to Chicago. Europe is certainly more densely populated, but if you are dealing with the United States from Chicago eastward, particularly in RichWashBalPhil Yorkprovton City (the mega city that basically runs from Richmond to Boston), the population is easily dense enough to support real rail travel.

Farlington Blade wrote:
Consider the Acela Express. Amtrak bought high speed trains, but there's no dedicated tracks. As a result, it's only slightly faster than regular rail.

My Comment:
Also due in part to the fact that the Acela is overbuilt and far too heavy to actually reach a high speed. The U.S. rail "safety" standards are out of data and require the building of overly heavy trains. The Acela is based on a European Train. Unlike putting Lipstick on a Pig (which remains a pig) putting the U.S. safety systems on the European Design turns an All State Basketball Player and Beauty Contest Champion in to a pig.

Don't get me wrong. I love trains (and have been on the TGV, Eurostar, and Shinkansen). But this would be a VERY expensive proposition.

BB

Posted by: dcraven925 | February 6, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Yes, exactly at this time we need high speed bazillion dollar expense to transport America's unemployed between City's soup kitchens.

It would come in handy though for those additional 23,000 employees our bailed out bank CEO's are requesting work visas in hopes of getting foreign workers to replace the Americans they've laid off . . to get to work quicker from their distant cheaper abodes to accomodate their cheaper salaries, doncha know!

Posted by: spritey | February 6, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

By the way: the stupidity of the average American bear has NO CLUE as to how expensive those tickets are on Europe's and other nation's high speed rail systems are.

If the regular rail ways can't make a buck with the lower fares of any high speed rail system, who do you think will be keeping the high speed railway company's afloat, the very tax paying people who can't afford those tickets.

Morons.

Posted by: spritey | February 6, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Here in Minneapolis we had a microcosm of the country's argument over rail transit. For 30 years naysayers won with claims that the population isn't dense enough, it costs too much, etc. etc. When finally one light-rail line was built ridership immediately outpaced the most optimistic hopes, amazing development occured along its corridor, and the public began clamoring for several additional lines. Intercity high-speed rail is clean, it's green, and it's way more convenient than air travel. Highways and cars have been heavily subsidized since the 1940's, when they drove rail out of business. If we use the stimulus funds to jump-start real investment in dedicated track, for example, and modern equipment acquisition, we'd quickly see that "If you build it, they will come!" Doubters, look into the website for the "Midwest High Speed Rail Association" and learn about the State/Fed demonstration rail service expansions through Illinois. It can work, if we give it half a chance....

Posted by: emmacate | February 7, 2009 1:24 AM | Report abuse

There is NO rail system in the world that isn't subsidized by the home government. If they want to fund "rail" fund inner city transport, that will give a lot more bang for the buck, even if it isn't as sexy as "high speed rail".

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | February 8, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Once again, California leads the way. We passed a bond measure in November to build a high-speed (220mph) rail connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco/Sacramento. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/ It will costs a lot of money, but in the end it will be worth it. The measure was sponsored by Quintin Kopp, who was the same visionary who made sure that BART went directly to San Francisco International Airport when others wanted to run a shuttle bus from the BART station. People think high speed rail is expensive, but they forget how expensive our roads and airports are. Billions of Federal and State dollars go to subsidize both of these transport networks, but neither are as efficient, safe and as "green" as rail.

Posted by: Severus | February 9, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

The entire US air passenger industry is now at a net operating loss of some billions over its history, even given the tens of billions in subsidies it has received in the form of federal operation of the air traffic control system and of government-owned airports. This is why Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, said "I've never invested in any airline. I'm an airline manager. I don't invest in airlines." In contrast, Europe rail makes a profit on operations, after having had the construction of their facilities largely paid for by their respective governments.

It's time for the US to give up the fiction of unsubsidized private air and highway transport industries and invest in reliable energy efficient regional high-speed rail transport (note that this does *not* describe today's Amtrak, which wastes resources by competing with Greyhound buses and trying to serve myriad Podunk towns nationwide). Sensible corridors include Baltimore-Washington-New York-Boston, Minneapolis-Chicago, the Dallas-San Antonio-Houston triangle, and California from Sacramento through San Diego.

Posted by: raschumacher | February 9, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

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