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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 09/28/2010

Amtrak unveils high-speed rail 'vision'

By Washington Post editors

Amtrak is unveiling a $117 billion, 30-year vision for high-speed rail on the East Coast that would drastically reduce travel times along the congested corridor.

At a news conference at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station on Tuesday, Amtrak President Joseph Boardman said the proposal is at the visionary stage, and there's no funding plan in place. It aims for high-speed rail by 2040.

Boardman says the Next-Gen High Speed Rail line would reduce the travel time between Washington, D.C., and New York City from 162 minutes to 96 minutes. The travel time between New York and Boston would go from 215 minutes to 84 minutes.

About 12 million riders a year use Amtrak along the northeast corridor.

Amtrak says the high-speed trains could accommodate about 33.7 million passengers by 2040.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post editors  | September 28, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  DC, Traffic and Transportation  
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Comments

Amtrak and other U.S. rail service providers (state mass transit depts) all suffer from lack of fed policy favoring rail, much less high speed rail. We modernize airports and roads and bridges, but not rail or rail tunnels. Smart growth, reducing pollution, reducing dependence on oil, lower cost of goods transport, all are reasons to favor rail.

Give trains permission to earn a profit. Put freight on separate tracks so all trains can operate at peak efficient speeds. Foster development around train depots, to spread cost of otherwise expensive train stations.

Make rail more efficient, while also boosting the economy. Choose one favored design of high speed, long distance, coach & light rail models, to improve efficiency, intermodality and re-use of train sets. Also, add jobs, by bringing back Budd to build trains in U.S., or retooling Detroit car factories to build trains.

And yes, favor high speed rail wherever possible. But don't limit it to Northeast Corridor. Adopt twenty U.S. corridors where states who achieve rights of way in required time frame will get first high speed rail lines for runs of up to three hours' time. It will further spur economic development.

But do all of this as part of a single, seamless federal rail policy.

Posted by: HoyaFan | September 28, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

And whose going to pay for this? Only two high speed rails in the world actually make money! That's correct only two. All the rest are government subsidized.

Posted by: Jimbo77 | September 28, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Finally! A vision for true high-speed rail in this country! We're way behind Europe, Japan, South Korea, China...a growing list of countries.

Posted by: CrestwoodKat | September 28, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Why in the world should EXISTING technology take thirty years to implement? I agree with HoyaFan that Federal Rail Policy needs to change. Retooling Detroit or even Pittsburgh would be a great boon to an embattled economy.

I love the TGVs I've taken. I prefer train to plane whenever its possible. This should be something that could be done by 2015, not 2040.

Posted by: Fabrisse | September 28, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Jimbo77,

So what if it's government subsidized? So is our entire highway system, not to mention streets and every other public utility out there. The purpose is to facilitate economic and social activity, for the benefit of the entire society.

Posted by: pmholm | September 28, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

My dream last night is also in the "visionary stage".

How ridiculous.

Posted by: itreu001 | September 28, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Guys, those of you moaning about the 2040 date should realize that an announcement like this is code for, "This will never happen without government subsidies." Most other nations subsidize rail, and it's worth every penny. The dividends it pays are, shall I say, "priceless."

Posted by: archtop | September 28, 2010 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Of course it could be implemented by 2015. 2040? Ridiculous. We need to get our priorities straight here. We have the technological ability as well as the money to get this done. DO IT NOW. DO NOT WAIT. The airlines are showing that they will not help us in our transportation gridlock, so it is up to the government to step in - as they did with the federally funded highway system.

Posted by: rwb1122 | September 29, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

The technology's there, but the infrastructure, not so much. Not just new trains but rails, depots, and especially stations will need re-tooling if they're going to triple the load of passengers. That will take a while.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | September 29, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

France and Japan have this since 1980s (when Reagan was president). Germans have it for the last 15 years, Italians and Austrians for the last 8-10 years. All provide a fine, reliable service, environmentally friendly without fumes coming out of airplanes.

So, by 2040, it will be (a) about 50-60 years behind these countries and (b) they will have something more modern (like the MagLev Siemens train that slides on a magnetic air cushion, with no wheels and contact!).

Posted by: ordak100 | September 29, 2010 4:49 AM | Report abuse

In June, America imported 10 million barrels of oil per day, sending $750 million per day out of the country. If we weren't importing so much oil, we'd have 3/4 Billion dollars a day to spend IN the country. Then we'd have no recession and no unemployment.

Posted by: betterdays1 | September 29, 2010 5:14 AM | Report abuse

Great but Amtrak needs to do something about customer service. Riding the train just get the feeling the employees there hate their customers. They don't even make an announcement of the station name where they stop and they don't say which doors will open. Just last week I saw a family miss their stop because no conductor was there to open the door. More than once I have had to open the door myself to get off the metroliner. And how can a cafe car be closed when its the only option around? For customer service they get a big fat zero (0).

Posted by: werowe1 | September 29, 2010 5:53 AM | Report abuse

Amtrak is hoping that evolution would take place by that time and Americans would grow a brain.

Little do they understand that the Neanderthal population among us is taking over.
============================

Posted by: Fabrisse | September 28, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse
Why in the world should EXISTING technology take thirty years to implement?

Posted by: kblgca | September 29, 2010 7:17 AM | Report abuse

I recently took the Acela Express from Washington to New York and back. Comparing it to the trains I've been on in various European countries, the Acela Express is a joke. It stops at stations five or six times, rarely travels very fast, and beats the trains not labeled as "express" by only a few minutes. It's just another Amtrak scam, give the difference in price between tickets on this special "express" train and other trains traveling the same route.

Why should we think anything Amtrak does, even in the distant future, is going to be much different?

Posted by: Kapmep | September 29, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse


Most maladies ailing this country can be helped if we require that only people who have a passport and have traveled to at least one other country can vote. Mexico and Canada don't count.

Posted by: kblgca | September 29, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

I'd rather they built another high speed corridor from DC to Chicago or Miami than continuing to speed up the trip to New York. People take the current line because it is fast enough to get there and back in a day. People would ride the train more if it were faster and went where people wanted to go, and didn't stop in every small town to let 3 people on or off.

Posted by: Flicking_Gamer | September 29, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Check out The Economist's article on "High-speed railroading" about America's railways - very informative.

Posted by: Thinker19 | September 29, 2010 8:20 AM | Report abuse

So much for "industry" doing what is needed without being pushed by the government. The rich CEOs are more interested in laying off Americans and replacing them with cheap H1-B labor so they can collect their huge bonuses and golden parachute. Nationalize the rail systems and get this done (and much more) in TEN years. Industry...get out of the way!

Posted by: Sadler | September 29, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

What we need more than high speed trains is an INTEGRATED transportation system that coordinates and centralizes air, rail, and bus systems. One should be able to get off a plane and walk to train and bus connections, as is done in Europe, where a car is unnecessary.

Posted by: Cosmo4 | September 29, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Why do people expect trains to make money, but not roads? It's a public good.

It lets people go from A to B faster and easier, making commerce and daily life that much better. Plenty of profits get made as a result. Plenty of businesses spring up alongside these projects. Fortunes are made and bills are paid.

9 out of 10 capitalists agree that you have to spend money to make money. What we don't agree on is whose money. Sometimes it's taxpayer money and bond issues. Sometimes it's banks and venture capital.

I don't care where it comes from as long as it makes the world a little better, pays a few salaries, big and small, improves American global competitiveness without dumping toxic waste into our water supply, or screwing the public in some tremendous boondoggle for people who are already tremendously rich.

East Coast hi-speed rail sounds like it could achieve those ends, so I'm for it. If it takes government subsidies and loan guarantees, it's worth it.

All this kneejerk unsubstantiated anti-government blubbering without analysis will get us nowhere slow.

I say it's good to be skeptical, but take it case-by-case. Sometimes spending taxpayer money on a big civic project is a smart business move. This is one idea that is.

Posted by: itstrue | September 29, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I thought the problem was that because the northeast corridor was so heavily populated and there were so many stops that the trains were limited to speed limits. The Acela trains don't constantly travel at their maximum speeds. They need to build tracks so you could travel straight through without any stops.

Posted by: carbon916 | September 29, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Amtrak is finally putting money towards technology? Not toys for children? Amtrak needs a new marketing team, advertising agency, and get a grip on the modern marvels of transportation. Amtrak's service has suffered. I might as well continue to fly if Amtrak can't provide better service like train companies in Asia and Europe. Who is running the show over there? Somebody's son, daughter, start hiring professionals and leave the children at home.

Thomas Chi
Author
Selling Sex with Sarah Palin

Posted by: thomaschiinc | September 29, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Finally! A vision for true high-speed rail in this country! We're way behind Europe, Japan, South Korea, China...a growing list of countries.

Posted by: CrestwoodKat | September 28, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse
-------------------------------

America is a relatively rural country. This is like saying that Kansas is lagging behind NYC in public transportation... well duh!

Posted by: mattsoundworld | September 29, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

The thing is we need a NATIONAL high speed rail system.

There should be 2 "major artery" tracks 1 going north to south from MIAMI to BOSTON and one going from SD to SEATTLE, and we need one or two going across the country. Maybe 1 from NYC to LA stopping in CHICAGO & Denver.

Posted by: alex35332 | September 29, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Matt, you are correct but the same cannot be said for the Boston-Washington corridor which is very European in city closeness.

I tend to agree that certain factors in Europe and Asia allow for bicycle commuting, etc, but trains in the northeast don't qualify.

Posted by: bbcrock | September 29, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

2040? Just in time for "high-speed rail" to be hopelessly outdated. How very 21st century American. I hope we borrow the money and outsource the contstruction, too.

Posted by: dsk36 | September 29, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

2040? Just in time for "high-speed rail" to be hopelessly outdated. How very 21st century American. I hope we borrow the money and outsource the contstruction, too.

Posted by: dsk36 | September 29, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Yes, and I had this vision of little green men in purple dresses flying around in their spaceship eating doughnuts and waving to me.

Posted by: Tess6 | September 29, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

And whose going to pay for this? Only two high speed rails in the world actually make money! That's correct only two. All the rest are government subsidized.

Posted by: Jimbo77
___________________

Guess what? Cars are government-subsidized, too. It's called the highway system. GM, Ford, and Chrysler all have had their way far too long.

Posted by: bs2004 | September 29, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Thirty years????? There should be a Boise to Miami MagLev train by 2040. Which will be replaced by a teleporter in 2050.

And people wonder why I'm apathetic about government.

Posted by: caribis | September 29, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

@Jimbo77: None of the airlines make money. They don't pay for airports and the rest of the air traffic infrastructure.

Posted by: Garak | September 29, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Trains are great for going from A to B. Not so good on A to C. And for going to C to D, it's utterly hopeless.

Europe is not the US. The cities are closer together. Train use is declining as flights get cheaper.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | September 29, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

The major obstacles to high speed trains are the intersections between rail and roads. Too many idiots try to beat the train, drive around barriers, etc. If new tracks are built that eliminate these intersections, high speed rail will succeed. I would much rather travel by train than by air. 3-1/2 hours to Boston from Philly would be fantastic! Jobs, better/faster/safer transportation system -- GO FOR IT!

Posted by: ccs53 | September 29, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

The major obstacles to high speed trains are the intersections between rail and roads. Too many idiots try to beat the train, drive around barriers, etc. If new tracks are built that eliminate these intersections, high speed rail will succeed. I would much rather travel by train than by air. 3-1/2 hours to Boston from Philly would be fantastic! Jobs, better/faster/safer transportation system -- GO FOR IT!

Posted by: ccs53 | September 29, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

High speed rail is a good idea. At this point, America is way behind Japan and China and others. I guess Exxon-Mobil has some good lobbyists. In any event, it's never too late to start. Even today, as antiquated as it is, the rail system on the East Coast is far ahead of most of the rest of America.

When I went to school in NYC, one of the girls in my class took the train in every day from New Haven. On weekends, I'd sometimes go visit friends in Philadelphia. No problem. Take the subway to the train station. Take the train to Philly, take the commuter train out to the Main Line. Try doing that in the midwest.

Posted by: John991 | September 29, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

High speed rail is a good idea. At this point, America is way behind Japan and China and others. I guess Exxon-Mobil has some good lobbyists. In any event, it's never too late to start. Even today, as antiquated as it is, the rail system on the East Coast is far ahead of most of the rest of America.

When I went to school in NYC, one of the girls in my class took the train in every day from New Haven. On weekends, I'd sometimes go visit friends in Philadelphia. No problem. Take the subway to the train station. Take the train to Philly, take the commuter train out to the Main Line. Try doing that in the midwest.

Posted by: John991 | September 29, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

The US needs to have this operational much sooner than 30 years. This should be a 10 year plan at the most.

Posted by: Tintin3 | September 29, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

By 2040...I will be able to pis from DC to NY in less time than this train would take to reach NY...bunch of morons running the amtrak..

Posted by: thewayitis | September 29, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

"Only two high speed rails in the world actually make money!"

I'll bite: Which two?

If you mean the Japanese bullet trains, I have some bad news: The only reason they APPEAR to make money is that the Japanese government still holds most of the debt. And debt you don't hold is debt you don't have to service.

Posted by: mattintx | September 29, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

117 Billion? That is 5.6 months funding of the Iraq war. 5.6 months spending.

33.7 million passengers per year.

Can we please have a say in government spending?

Posted by: NewThoughts | September 29, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

The INTEREST ALONE on $117 billion would ADD $200 to a roundtrip ticket on this rail line.
Assuming it used at full capacity.

This is economic insanity.

Posted by: RSweeney1 | September 29, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

If NYC and DC want this, they should pay for it. Getting tired out here in flyover country
of the these two cities that have basically wrecked this country financially.

Let some of the fat cats pay for a change.

Posted by: wesatch | September 29, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

This is a fantastic but incredibly OBVIOUS idea!

All of Europe, Russia, China and Japan already have this, some of them for DECADES already!

Why do we have to wait another THIRTY YEARS for this to be implemented!?

Posted by: macheko | September 29, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I have to wonder why $117B would be spent on a project unlikely to earn any sort of profit and will likely require government subsidies, when an alternative mode of transportation already exists, air travel. It is already established. Why try to promote rail? If it would be profitable then companies would be trying to build it.

I can see high speed rail in a very few cases, like DC-Balt. or NY to Boston. And even then where are you going to put it? I doubt it can share existing tracks. No wonder it will take $117B and probably a lot of land already used for other purposes.

Since air is already profitable how about expanding existing airports, or creating new ones? Let what works work. So what is the japanese have high speed rail? If they want to subsidize it, great, but we would be foolish to follow a losing model that has left us with amtrak. Rail is great where it can compete. Where it cannot we should not spend money shoehorning it places where it will only cost the taxpayer, especially when viable alternatives already exist.

Personally I'd like to see an exclusive express bus lane from DC to NY along, below or above I95. The buses could do 100 mph and get from DC to NY in 2 hours, and cost $50 each way. After factoring in the time being hassled at an airport, a bus line, which could pick you up much closer to your house and jump on the expressway, could get you to NY in the same amount of time and at a lower cost.

Posted by: Fate1 | September 29, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Fate1: ever seen photos from a bus crash? It's bad bad bad at 65 mph. At 100 mph there are no survivors. Buses crash a LOT compared to trains, even on dedicated busways. And there is NO WAY a bus alone could justify the unbelievable construction cost. What you are talking about would parallel the Big Dig in cost and complexity.

There is plenty of room for more tracks on most lines, they were built with expansion in mind.

Personally I think we should set a smaller baby-step goal: coast-to-coast dedicated passenger rail, Acela quality. This will jumpstart passenger rail, making the NY - Chicago route viable.

In parallel or the next step would be to bring the northeast corridor up to full Acela quality, I am TIRED of watching my zippy fast train crawl on the crummy tracks in Connecticut. Again this will give the business a big jump start, because it will take virtually ALL of the passengers from the Eastern/Trump/US Air shuttle. At full speed the train is FAR FAR faster than the plane from Boston to NYC, counting the airport commutes on both ends.

These two moves will give Amtrak some badly needed revenue production so they can overcome the critics and proceed with further expansion. And again this expansion should consist of running passenger-only rails alongside of existing freight rails so that both can work independently.

Posted by: frantaylor | September 29, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

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