While traveling abroad, many Americans have experienced true high-speed train rides. Most of them have come home thinking, “What the hell is wrong with the U.S.? Why don’t we have high-speed trains?”
Amtrak’s Acela trains are capable of running at around 150 miles-per-hour, but there are only a few short stretches of track in the Washington-New York-Boston corridor where the track conditions permit those speeds.
The fact is, the Acelas average speed along the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston is a bit over 60 mph. People choose the Acela travel on because it’s a slick looking train and the food and drinks are comparable to first class service on a good airline.
But there are—Dare I say it?—legitimate reasons to feel encouraged:
* Sir Richard Branson has acquired controlling interest in Brightline on Florida’s east coast and it is hardly a coincidence that the company has recently announced plans to finish laying track to Orlando and beyond.
* Virgin Trains USA—Yes, that’s the same Sir Richard Branson—has also acquired Xpress West, the company with the rights to build a high-speed rail line connecting Las Vegas with the Los Angeles area—a project generally considered a slam-dunk for someone with adequate funding.
* Texas Central Railway, which will operate high-speed trains between Dallas and Houston, has secured private funding and could actually begin construction early next year.
* Work continus apace on California’s high-speed rail system linking L.A. and the Bay area.
Lest any of us start feeling puffed up about this country’s entry into the era of high-speed rail, it would be a good idea to remind ourselves that the Japanese Shinkansen—the so- called bullet train—first began service in 1963. That was 55 years ago!