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Why High-Speed Bullet Trains Won’t Work in the U.S. Right Now


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Now I'm not against high-speed rail in the US (frankly I don't mind either way, as I'm obviously more interested in older locomotives) but I think most of the people advocating for it are doing so for the wrong reasons and don't really understand railways as well as the history of passenger rail's drastic decline in the US.

Another thing: many say that the decline of interurban and streetcar railways in the USA was because they were bought and dismantled by conspiratorial forces (oil, automotive companies) to force the public into buying cars, but all of my rail history books I've ever read stated that the decline of the passenger train was simply due to the public voting with their feet.


Who's right?

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I am often called on to assist with access needs on our campus and yesterday had a professor reach out about access to the one of the libraries for an event - specifically, nearby parking in the restricted parking lot.


I offered two suggestions.

1 - Ride the free campus bus from one campus to the other - 7 minute ride - drop off a short distance from the library.

2 - Drive to the parking services office, pay US$15 for a day pass to the restricted lot (citing my contact to be allowed to do that), then drive to the center of campus and park and then walk a longer distance to the library.


You can easily guess which option they chose!


People here do publicly vote with their feet - or, to be precise - with their wheels!

I don't get it but such is life.



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Well, the Acela and the Northeast Regional work relatively well and transported 12.5 millions people during FY2019, and 3.3% growth from 2018. There is no reason a new HSL wouldn't work on an (extended) North-East corridor and a few other chosen corridors.

People are ready to drive to airports, they would drive to take trains if they offered convenient and correctly priced alternatives. The main problem in the US, bare for the sprawling nature of most cities, is mostly political and financial. Infrastructure costs are insane and far above that other countries'.

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Yes Acela works pretty well, especially dc/nyc as trip is equivalent to flying when you factor getting to from airports at each end. In dc Union station is at the nexus of metro so fairly quick to get to from anywhere in the metro area with the metro. But to use metro to get to Dulles or national airports it only works if you are on their metro lines as dc metro was designed at radiating spoke pattern to get folks in and out of downtown dc. If you don’t live on the metro lines to the airports’ spokes you have to go into downtown, transfer and go back out to an airport. Adds quite a bit of time.


it never looked good to turn the northeast corridor into a true HSR line, just too many barriers. The use of eminent domain here to do projects like this is really hard to do. This article was just updating on some of the issues with infrastructure spending with hsr. Size of the cities is an issue as well as the size of the country overall for hsr makes it’s really really hard to even contemplate. Also as toni says many folks vote with their wheels! 

im more concerned they keep ahead of infrastructure repairs and updating to just keep the current system running well and safe. We have spent way too long neglecting basic maintenance on many big infrastructure systems and gotten into the habit of only getting on them when things are about to collapse or have just collapsed. Easier to fixate on the big new shiny things, than very boring maintenance that does not make things faster or easier usually just keeps it from falling down.


btw all I’ve heard about the demise of interurban rail and trollies in the us from petrol, tire and bus companies was more of taking advantage of the situation of the rail systems on the ropes from the rise of the auto. Buying of properties and ripping up of rail was strategic thinking by those companies as just would make any turning back that much harder and sweetened the pot for cities to make the conversions. Good deals on buses, petrol, and tires was just the usual loss leader stuff companies would do opening up a new business like this (bus service) regardless of if rail was there or not as it helps the cities afford to take the plunge and once it’s there they are then on the teat so to speak… timing was also just perfect with huge post war economy and cars and gas getting cheaper fast (post war manufacturing was able to pivot to cars fast) and government spending on big highway projects pumped economies and voters liked seeing shiny new highways. Plane travel as well just starting to take off (pun intended) and spirit of the time was a big celebration of freedom with the car. So really wild convergence of a lot of things here in the us.



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You could do it in places with enough people and where the ride is not too long.  I'd not want to take HSR from Salt Lake CIty to LA or Chicago.  But the proposed LA - Vegas line would probably work.  That private one in Texas will probably work.  Florida is building out and could get faster.  Obviously NE corridor.


Ignoring current political reason, no one in Europe would take HSR from Frankfurt to Moscow.  They'd fly the roughly 4000km (I didn't measure it but a long time ago did a rough measurement from somewhere in Germany to Moscow and it was about 4000km IIRC -- about the same as Salt Lake City to Boston).


Japan works due to the population density.   (and probably the inability of people against something to hold it up in the courts indefinitely for a variety of reasons -- ecological impact or whatever).  Same with W Europe.


The US is too spread out.  Even the city areas are more spread out.  I could take light rail into Salt Lake City from a station about 7 minutes from my house.  But the trip is something like an hour. I can drive the 22 miles in under half an hour (its mostly highway).  And this is a small city.  


For the NE Corridor they really should build new tracks.  Cities should be underground like in Japan (or elevated).   (The Shinkansen in Kobe runs in a tunnel that is under the next street over from where my SIL and husband's house is in an outskirt suburban neighborhood in Kobe area and the only reason I know that is that I saw it on a map on my phone -- once I knew it you could occasionally kind of hear a low rumble if you listened for it).  But someone will file a lawsuit to stop it and it will take 10 years to resolve.


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