Experts Question $8 Billion HSR Stimulus Investment

No one expects the $8 billion to build any one single high-speed-rail system in the U.S. But the U.S., with its vast distances and low gas prices, is not Europe or Asia, and some question whether the investment will produce any substantial results.

"Some transportation researchers say a network of trains that can travel faster than 200 miles an hour is not feasible in the United States. They say the high price tag for building and operating a super-fast system will be the biggest deterrent.

And much like Amtrak's eight-year-old Acela Express, the only US high-speed rail, the trains would have to compete in a culture that prefers cars and planes.

"We have tremendous distances compared with Japan or Europe," said Carlos Schwantes, a professor of transportation studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "We're just much bigger, and in so much of the country it's so low a population density that we'd have to ask the question: Is it worth spending our dollars for the infrastructure in those areas?"

High-speed rail systems, which have been slow to catch on here, took off abroad with the help of huge government subsidies and gas prices that were more than double what American drivers were paying when prices here peaked last year, transportation researchers say."

"Spread out over the country, $8 billion will be an important amount of money to advance the engineering and design," said Peter Gertler, national public transit services director with HNTB, an engineering and architectural firm that has been involved in the Midwest high-speed rail project. But going forward, he said, high-speed rail authorities "will need more local funding at the private and state levels."

Thanks to Bay Area Transportation News

Full Story: Will stimulus funds put rail on the fast track?



It's not just about density!

I am getting tired of hearing that North America cannot support high-speed rail (HSR) because we lack the densities of Europe. Yes, France is much more dense than the US or Canada, but that is not what drives HSR. Take Paris-Lyon for example - much denser population between the two cities than what is typically found in North America, but note that the TGV serves those two cities and very few points in between. The overall density doesn't matter, but the large cities at either end do!

In North America (outside of the very densely populated US northeast corridor) there are many examples of city pairs like Paris-Lyons that would work perfectly. Take the following examples:
• Chicago-St. Louis with a stops in Bloomington (or Champaign) and Springfield
• Chicago-Minneapolis with a stop in Madison
• Chicago-Philadelphia with stops in South Bend, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg
• New Orleans-Memphis-St. Louis
• Houston-New Orleans-Atlanta
• Windsor-Hamilton-Toronto-Montreal-Quebec City
• Edmonton-Calgary via Red Deer
• Vancouver, BC-Seattle-Portland

All of these mimic the links between highly populated nodes that are served by HSR in Europe. Sure, there's never going to be HSR from Toronto to Vancouver or Chicago to LA, but large city pairs that are spaced 400-800 km apart with one medium city between them are perfect opportunities for HSR. In that respect, the climate for HSR in North America is no different than in Europe. The potential market exists, and the geography is definitely workable.

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