High-speed rail in the United States: Wikis


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Acela Express trains in Boston, on the Northeast Corridor, currently the only line used for high-speed rail in the U.S.

High-speed rail in the United States currently consists of one rail line described by the US Department of Transportation as a high-speed line:[1] Amtrak's Acela Express service, which runs the Northeast Corridor—from Boston via New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, to Washington, D.C.—at speeds averaging 68 mph (109 km/h) for the entire distance but briefly reaching 150 mph (240 km/h) at times.

In contrast to Shanghai's Maglev airport train which averages 156 mph (250 km/h) over a 30 km track or the even faster French TGV which routinely averages speeds of 173 mph (277 km/h), Amtrak's Acela Express averages a speed of 63 mph (101 km/h) between Boston and New York City, and a brisker 79 mph (126 km/h) between New York City and Washington, D.C.[2] For comparison, a non-high speed Amtrak train travels between New York City and Chicago at an average speed of 34 mph (54 km/h), markedly slower than the Ford Model T which made its debut over 100 years ago.[2][3] To improve this situation, the recent federal allocation of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects has prompted U.S. federal and state planners to award contracts by September, 2009, to establish high-speed service along ten more rail "corridors" within the United States.

The U.S. definition of a minimum speed for high-speed rail is at a lower figure than that used in Europe of 200 km/h (120 mph).[4] The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) defines "high-speed rail" in three different ways:[5]

  • High-Speed Rail – Express: Frequent, express service between major population centers 200–600 miles (320–965 km) apart, with few intermediate stops. Top speeds of at least 150 mph (240 km/h) on completely grade-separated, dedicated rights-of-way (with the possible exception of some shared track in terminal areas). Intended to relieve air and highway capacity constraints.
  • High-Speed Rail – Regional: Relatively frequent service between major and moderate population centers 100–500 miles (160–800 km) apart, with some intermediate stops. Top speeds of 110–150 mph (177–240 km/h), grade-separated, with some dedicated and some shared track (using positive train control technology). Intended to relieve highway and, to some extent, air capacity constraints.
  • Emerging High-Speed Rail: Developing corridors of 100–500 miles (160–800 km), with strong potential for future HSR Regional and/or Express service. Top speeds of up to 90–110 mph (145–177 km/h) on primarily shared track (eventually using positive train control technology), with advanced grade crossing protection or separation. Intended to develop the passenger rail market, and provide some relief to other modes.



The EMD FT and similar models became the dominant locomotives of the US Streamliner fleet, ushering in the Diesel-Electric era.

Development of high-speed rail in the US can be traced back to 1934, with the introduction of the Burlington Railroad's Pioneer Zephyr and the Union Pacific Railroad's M-10000. These short, self-contained trains were originally introduced for limited-express, extra-fare services between major cities. However, the trains soon became so popular that the fixed-length Zephyr-type units were retired in favor of longer, locomotive-hauled trains, which came to be known as Streamliners. The locomotives that hauled the trains, like the NYC Hudson, the Southern Pacific GS-4, and the EMD FT, continue to be railroading icons to this day.

Improvement to streamliners continued at a breakneck pace throughout the 1930s, with intercity services such as the Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha regularly exceeding 100 mph (160 km/h) and long distance services traveling at 70 mph (110 km/h) or more. The original fixed-length streamliners were mostly scrapped during World War Two, but not without great influence. In the 1950s, Japan's Odakyu Electric Railway introduced Romancecar service, which was largely patterned after the Zephyr and later Electroliner. It was the Romancecar, operating at 90 mph (144 km/h) on the Japanese narrow-gauge network, which proved the viability of even-faster standard gauge trains, leading Japan to inaugurate the modern high-speed rail era with the Tokaido Shinkansen in 1964.[6]

Streamliners in the US were significantly set back by a 1940s FRA rule which required enhanced safety features for all trains traveling above a 79mph (126 km/h) limit. Since the infrastructure required for cab signaling, automatic train stop and other enhancements was uneconomical in the sparsely-populated American West, this rule effectively killed further development of high speed rail outside of the Northeast, where the Pennsylvania Railroad and others had installed cab signaling beginning in the 1930s. No other English-speaking country adopted this rule, and while the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia all operate trains at 100 mph (160 km/h) or higher using conventional lineside signaling, few trains in the United States operate above 79 miles per hour (127 km/h) outside of the Northeast Corridor. One exception is Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which travels up to 90 miles per hour (140 km/h) along various stretches of its ChicagoLos Angeles route.

Federal involvement

In the 1960s, the US DOT partnered with the Pennsylvania Railroad and several industrial manufacturers to develop the Metroliner service, which was capable of traveling at 125 mph (200 km/h)[7]. Pennsylvania-operated Metroliners were short-lived, however, as just two years later Amtrak was formed to take over the nation's passenger rail system from the freight operators.

While Japan continuously improved its Shinkansen network, going from an initial top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h) to having many services which operate at 186 mph (300 km/h) today, the Metroliner remained more or less unchanged for the next thirty years, and the Metroliner-based Amfleet passenger car became the mainstay of intermediate-haul Amtrak services. Increasing airport congestion lead to a renewed interest in high speed rail, and in 2001 the Acela Express was inaugurated. Acela trains tilt into curves along the track, allowing them to negotiate several tight curves on the New York to Boston route. While the trains themselves are capable of 160 mph (260 km/h), improvements to the track have proceeded in a piecemeal manner, and actual speeds are significantly slower. Presently the New York-Washington segment (formerly PRR) is the faster of the two, and most of the line allows 135 mph (216 km/h) running. The New York-Boston segment contains extensive segments with speeds as low as 90 mph (144 km/h); consequently, most of the recent improvements have focused on this corridor, thus the 150 mph (240 km/h) segment is also found here.

Travel time between Washington and New York is 2 hours and 53 minutes, or an average speed of 79 mph (130 km/h). While New York and Boston are closer together, travel time on this segment is 3 hours 28 minutes, resulting in a low average speed of only 63 mph (80 km/h). With a 15-minute layover in New York, the entire end-to-end trip averages 68 mph (110 km/h)[2].

In recent years high jet fuel prices, congested airports and highways, and increasing airport security rules regarding liquids and electronics that force most travelers to check baggage have all combined to make high-speed rail options more attractive. A study conducted by the International Union of Railways indicated that high-speed trains produce five times less CO2 than automobiles and jet aircraft.[8] Most high-speed rail systems use electricity for power, so they lessen dependence on petroleum and can be powered by renewable energy sources, or nuclear power such as Japan and France. There has been a resurgence of interest in recent decades, with many plans being examined for high-speed rail across the country, but current service remains relatively limited.

Current federal efforts

In February, 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress allocated $8 billion to be granted to states for intercity rail projects, with "priority to projects that support the development of intercity high speed rail service."[9]

Strategic plan

The ten rail corridors identified for potential high-speed development.

In April, 2009, as required by ARRA, the FRA released its strategic plan describing the agency's vision for developing high-speed rail in the United States.[5] As potential funding targets, the plan formally identified ten corridors[10]—all previously designated as high-speed rail corridors by several successive Secretaries of Transportation—as well as the existing Northeast Corridor. The ten designated high-speed corridors, together with the major cities served by each, are:

In addition to the $8 billion provided by ARRA, the plan forecasts five years' worth of $1 billion annual budget requests to be used to "jump-start a potential world-class passenger rail system."[1]

Interim guidance

On June 17, 2009, the FRA issued interim guidance to applicants covering grant terms, conditions, and procedures until final regulations are issued. Under its criteria, the FRA will evaluate grant proposals for their ability to make trips quicker and more convenient, reduce congestion on highways and at airports, and meet other environmental, energy, and safety goals.[12]

Next steps

The FRA received grant applications from states for stimulus funds and FY 2009 intercity capital funds in August and October, 2009[13] and is presently reviewing them. Awards will be made in the winter of 2009-2010.[14]

Current state and regional efforts


California Proposition 1A, passed in November 2008, authorizes the state to issue $9.95 billion in bonds to fund the first phase of a planned multi-phase high-speed rail network. Steel-wheel on rail technology is the adopted mode. Los Angeles to San Francisco, via California's Central Valley, will be the first phase of the network. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is the lead agency charged with planning and implementing the system. When the network is built, high-speed trains will be able to travel across California at speeds of up to 220 mph (350 km/h), potentially linking San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as two hours and thirty-eight minutes. The state expects to land a considerable portion of the stimulus money due to its advancement in developing a high-speed rail system.


The Rocky Mountain Rail Authority is in the process of a high speed rail feasibility study. Primary corridors being studied are the Interstate 70 corridor from Denver International Airport (DEN) to Eagle Airport (EGE) in Eagle County near Vail, and the Interstate 25 corridor from the Wyoming border to the New Mexico border.[15] These corridors however, are not defined as high speed rail corridors by the FRA.

On July 9, 2009 the governors of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas announced plans to jointly seek federal designation of a high-speed rail corridor linking Denver, Albuquerque, and El Paso and request up to $5 million in federal funding for a feasibility study.[16]


Development of a high-speed rail system in Florida was mandated by a constitutional referendum in 2000, but taken off the books by another referendum in 2004.[17]

New York State

New York State has been actively discussing high-speed rail service since the 1990s, but thus far little progress has been made. Amtrak Acela service between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts, is available to New York City, but the cities in Upstate New York and Western New York remain isolated from high-speed rail service. Further, destinations outside the New York metropolitan area have been plagued by delayed service for decades. Nonetheless, New York has been quietly endorsing and even implementing rail improvements for years.

Closer and faster railroad transportation links between New York City and the rest of the state are frequently cited as a partial solution to Upstate's stagnant economic growth.


The Ohio Hub is a project created by the Ohio Department of Transportation that is intended to connect Ohio with four other states, as well as Canada, by a passenger rail network. The main proposal is a four-corridor system based in Cleveland with branches terminating in Detroit, Toronto, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Both a 79 mph (126 km/h) and 110 mph (176 km/h) high-speed rail network have been proposed, costing a total $2.7 billion and $3.32 billion, respectively.


The Keystone Corridor is a 349 mile (562 km) rail line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, composed of two different segments. Between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, the line, which is owned by Amtrak, is fully electrified and almost completely grade separated. Between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the line is owned by Norfolk Southern, and is heavily used for freight transportation, with mountainous terrain. In 1999, the Keystone Corridor was formally recognized as a "designated high speed corridor" by the Federal Railroad Administration. The Keystone Corridor was upgraded in 2006 with two segments of 110 mph (176 km/h) operation between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, with express service taking 90 minutes over 103.6 miles (165.8 kilometres), which is the fastest average speed outside the North East Corridor. While the infrastructure already exists for high-speed rail between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, substantial infrastructure improvements would be necessary to provide high-speed rail between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Currently, one train per day runs on the segment west of Harrisburg.

The Midwest

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative or Midwest Regional Rail System (MRRI, MWRRI, or MWRRS) is a plan to implement a 220 mph (352 km/h) (on some key corridors) to 110 mph (176 km/h) passenger rail network in the Midwestern United States, using Chicago, Illinois as a hub and including 3,000 miles (5,000 km) of track. Primary routes would stretch across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, possibly reaching Kentucky. Secondary routes would operate at a somewhat slower speed across Missouri and Iowa, just touching Nebraska and nearly reaching Kansas. Existing Amtrak routes would probably be upgraded as part of this plan, which has been in development since 1996. Michigan has begun upgrading track and signals, already resulting in increased service speeds for Amtrak's Wolverine service. [1] However, similar efforts in Illinois have met with considerable technical difficulties. [2] In most states funding remains a problem making it unclear when construction might begin.

The Southeast

The Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor is a passenger rail transportation project to extend high speed passenger rail services from Washington, DC south through Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia through Raleigh and Charlotte in North Carolina and connect with the existing high speed rail corridor from DC to Boston, Massachusetts known as the Northeast Corridor. Since first established in 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has since extended the corridor to Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; Greenville, South Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama.

Incremental improvements to existing rail lines have been taking place while the environmental impact study required under the National Environmental Policy Act is being completed. The two-tiered EIS began in 1999, and completion is expected in 2010, with passenger service expected by 2015 to 2020, depending upon funding availability.


In 1991 the Texas High Speed Rail Authority awarded a 50-year high speed rail franchise to the Texas TGV Corporation - a consortium of Morrison Knudsen (USA), Bombardier (Canada), Alstom (France/UK), Crédit Lyonnais (France), Banque IndoSuez (France), Merrill Lynch (USA), and others. Texas TGV won the franchise after more than two years of litigation instigated by a rival consortium backing German ICE technology.

The plan was to connect the "Texas Triangle" (Houston - Dallas/Fort Worth - San Antonio) with a privately financed high speed train system which would quickly take passengers from one city to the next at prices designed to compete with or beat other transport options. This was the same model Southwest Airlines used 20 years earlier to break in to the Texas market where it served the same three cities.

Funding for the project was to come entirely from private sources, since Texas did not allow the use of public money. The original estimated cost was $5.6 billion, but the task of securing the necessary private funds proved extremely difficult.

Southwest Airlines, with the help of lobbyists, created legal barriers to prohibit the consortium from moving forward and the entire project was eventually scuttled in 1994, when the State of Texas withdrew the franchise.

A more recent proposal for high-speed rail in Texas is part of a larger proposed, state-wide super-infrastructure, the Trans-Texas Corridor.

In 2002, the Texas High Speed Rail & Transportation Corporation [3] (THSRTC), a grass roots organization dedicated to bringing high speed rail to Texas was established. In 2006, American Airlines and Continental Airlines formally joined THSRTC, in an effort to bring high speed rail to Texas as a passenger collector system for the airlines.

The Southwest

The cities of Denver, Las Vegas, Reno, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have recently formed the Western High Speed Rail Alliance, which is slated to spend $11 million over three years to study the feasibility of building railway links between the major cities of the southwestern United States, as well as linking to the California high-speed corridor via Las Vegas.[18][19] All four states represented are in the top ten fastest growing states, with Utah and Colorado topping the list. New Mexico is considering joining in order to include Albuquerque and Santa Fe in the network by upgrading and extending its recently-completed Rail Runner Express. Major obstacles to high speed rail in the region include highly competitive airline fares, rugged geography, and funding. Critics argue that high-speed rail works best in densely populated regions and will not be feasible in the sparsely populated West[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b "High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan: Press Release & Highlights" (PDF). U.S. Department of Transportation. April 16, 2009. http://www.fra.dot.gov/Downloads/RRdev/hsrpressrelease.pdf. Retrieved 2009-04-20.  
  2. ^ a b c Amtrak timetable valid May 11, 2009
  3. ^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_T
  4. ^ EC Directive 96/48 defines high-speed rail in terms of speeds of the order of 125 mph (200 km/h) for existing, upgraded lines; and 155 mph (250 km/h) for lines specially built for high-speed travel. "General Definitions of Highspeed". International Union of Railways. http://www.uic.org/spip.php?article971. Retrieved 2009-05-11.  
  5. ^ a b "High-Speed Rail Strategic Plan" (PDF). Federal Railroad Administration. April 2009. p. 10. http://www.fra.dot.gov/Downloads/RRdev/hsrstrategicplan.pdf. Retrieved 2009-04-16.  
  6. ^ "50年前の特急ロマンスカーが登場" (in Japanese). Asahi. 2007-10-03. http://www.asahi.com/komimi/TKY200709280266.html. Retrieved 2009-04-08.  
  7. ^ Wilton Woods (October 23, 1989). "All Aboard High-Speed Trains". Fortune Magazine. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1989/10/23/72635/index.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-18.  
  8. ^ "Spanish High-Speed Rail". MassTransitMag.com. http://www.masstransitmag.com/print/Mass-Transit/Spanish-High-Speed-Rail/1$6161. Retrieved 2009-02-13.  
  9. ^ Pub.L. 111-5
  10. ^ Money for Rail, Please, http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2009/05/money_for_rail_please.php, retrieved 2009-05-28  
  11. ^ "Federal Railroad Administration: Passenger Rail". http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/618. Retrieved 2009-04-17.  
  12. ^ "U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood Announces Guidelines for Receiving Economic Recovery Funds for High-Speed Rail". http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/press-releases/250. Retrieved 2009-06-21.  
  13. ^ "Applying for HSIPR Funding". http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/2245.  
  14. ^ "Statement from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Joseph C. Szabo". http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/press-releases/331.  
  15. ^ "Rocky Mountain Rail Authority". Homepage. http://rockymountainrail.org/. Retrieved 2009-03-27.  
  16. ^ "Colorado, New Mexico, Texas to seek high-speed rail backing". Denver Business Journal. 9 July 2009. http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2009/07/06/daily71.html. Retrieved 2009-07-09.  
  17. ^ Tracy, Dan (2009-02-27). "High-speed rail depends on Crist, board says". Orlando Sentinel (Tribune Company). http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-loc-high-speed-rail-crist-022709,0,4815309.story. Retrieved 2009-03-06.  
  18. ^ "UTA getting aboard high-speed rail". Deseret News. September 11, 2009. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705328515/UTA-getting-aboard-high-speed-rail.html. Retrieved 2009-09-13.  
  19. ^ "Denver area may join Western High Speed Rail Alliance". Boulder Daily Camera. September 8, 2009. http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_13290564?source=rss. Retrieved 2009-09-13.  
  20. ^ "Don't jump aboard high-speed rail". Deseret News. September 13, 2009. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705329446/Dont-jump-aboard-high-speed-rail.html. Retrieved 2009-09-13.  

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