For generations, much of the nation has been forced to use cars, buses or pricey aircraft to travel to nearby cities.
But this year, Washington opened the door to what may be a historic turning point in regional travel. The Department of Transportation awarded $8 billion among 31 states to begin developing America’s first nationwide high-speed intercity passenger rail service, to provide more convenient travel between mega-cities.
But the idea is much bigger than convenience, say supporters, who believe high-speed intercity rail will cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, reduce climate-changing pollution and fatten wallets by triggering economic development. Soon, Americans might find themselves rocketing along ribbons of rails at 200 mph in sleek, painted passenger cars — never stopping until they arrive at destinations awake and refreshed.
“High-speed rail will also revolutionize the way Americans travel by reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lowering harmful carbon emissions, fostering new economic development and giving travelers more choices when it comes to moving around the country,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo.
The U.S. High Speed Rail Association is also among the supporters. “Experts in the oil industry have been saying for a number of years now that there is not enough oil left in the ground to continue our current level of consumption, not to mention no way to meet growing demand, and we can expect half as much oil available to us in the next 20 years,” said Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the rail association. “If we are to continue economic development and prosperity, we will need to greatly reduce our daily oil consumption, and high-speed rail is the only possible solution that can scale up to meet the growing demand of American mobility while greatly reducing our oil consumption,” said Kunz.
High-speed rail supporters say the industry would stimulate the economy by creating millions of jobs across numerous sectors. “Based on our company’s 45 years of experience with high-speed rail in Japan, bringing high-speed rail to the United States will translate into jobs,” said Mike Finnegan, an executive with US-Japan High Speed Rail and US-Japan Maglev. And, “importantly, these jobs pay well and they cannot be shipped overseas.”
“The $8 billion investment in high-speed rail for America is just the beginning,” said Szabo. “We know that it won’t be built overnight, but the federal government is committed to the long-term development of the program. Of course, the Department of Transportation will fund projects that have the best chances to succeed and have instituted rigorous requirements to ensure successful completion of these projects.”
So if and when high-speed rail does move forward in the United States, how would it be built and what type of technology would be used? The Department of Transportation says funding for the program is “technology neutral” and does not place preference on the type of technologies used to build high-speed trains. Instead, it is allowing states and regions to choose the technology, as well as routes and station locations that meet their needs.
Estimates from the U.S Department of Transportation say bullet train speeds could reach up to 220 mph for some portions of California’s rail lines, while most other regions would top 110 mph. Maglev train technology, which is popular in many scientific circles around the world for its high speeds, is one mode of high-speed rail that is not catching on in the United States because of its high cost, according to the Department of Transportation and rail industry insiders. Maglev is a train technology in which magnetic forces lift, propel and guide a vehicle over a guideway.
It follows guidance tracks with magnets and does not use steel wheels or steel rails usually associated with trains. A well-known high-speed Maglev system operates commercially at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport in China. Its train reaches speeds of 268 mph and is much faster than the high-speed trains proposed in the United States. Japan and Germany also use Maglev train systems.
One Department of Transportation report said high-speed rail lines in portions of California may not be completed until 2026. But without a doubt, some time in the foreseeable future, passengers traveling by bullet train may in fact be moving faster than a speeding bullet. How fast? How about 3,500 mph? Is that even possible?
Check out the video and see for yourself.