High-Speed Rail Gains New Momentum Around the Country

In places as varied as Dallas, Seattle, California and the northeastern U.S., high-speed rail is seeing renewed interest and investment. After several years of setbacks and challenges in places like California, several potential high-speed rail corridors have moved forward with plans to map lines, acquire necessary land, and conduct feasibility studies. While more common in China, Japan, and several countries in Europe, the only existing high-speed rail in the United States is Amtrak’s Acela line, which runs on existing rights-of-way between Washington D.C. and Boston. Implementation of these projects would connect several major metropolitan areas via rail in areas where cars dominate the landscape, and potentially increase rail ridership by a significant factor in future decades.

A brief rundown of recent areas of interest for high-speed rail:

  • In California, initial plans for a high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area have been curtailed by price increases and attempts by the federal government to reduce grant funding. However, sections of the plan are still progressing at pace, as the board controlling the project recently voted to extend the San Jose portion of the corridor north to the Bay Area.
  • Also in California and Nevada, Virgin Trains recently presented its plans for high-speed rail connecting Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Clark County local government. Planning to break ground next year, the route would cover 170 miles and open for revenue service in 2023.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, Microsoft has committed more than $223,000 to completing a feasibility study on options for high-speed rail between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. If built, the rail line would take passengers between the two cities in less than an hour, and save an estimated 6 million metric tons of carbon emissions in its first 40 years in operation.
  • Dallas and Houston are looking to connect via high-speed rail, though plans are still in the future for the time being. Texas Central, the company behind the push to create a high-speed rail line between the two cities, has struck a deal worth $14 billion with the company responsible for building and operating Japan’s Shinkansen (bullet) trains. Trips from Houston to Dallas would take 90 minutes. The company hopes to break ground in 2020, with passenger service beginning in 2026.
  • Finally, Amtrak’s Acela trains received a complete upgrade recently, the result of an investment of $2.4 billion, which will allow them to ideally operate 10 mph faster than current speeds. Though numerous curves along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor make increased speeds a challenge, engineers have adapted Acela wheels and suspension to compensate for this factor, and are hoping to increase the comfort of the ride for passengers this way as well.


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