OP-ED: Make "High-Speed" Rail Speedier

Train writer Christian Wolmar argues that the best application for high speed rail funds would be to upgrade the Washington D.C. to Boston, 150 mph Acela line to true, high speed rail status and used as a showcase for American rail technology.

While America's speediest train is capable of 150 mph, track restrictions keep it to an average of 71 mph. The big winners in the recent stimulus awards for HSR, however, in FL and CA, call for building new lines.

"The 450-mile trip from Boston to Washington takes almost seven hours and averages just 71 miles per hour, hardly faster than by car and uncompetitive with air, while the 225-mile journey from New York to Washington takes two hours and 45 minutes, longer than Penn Central's Metroliner often took in the 1960s.

Contrast that with the nearly 500 miles covered by Paris-Marseille trains in just three hours, an average of over 160 miles per hour.

America needs to be lured back to the railways that once dominated its transportation system. If we can show what can be done in one corridor, we can inspire the development of better train service in other parts of the country."

"Christian Wolmar is the author of "Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railroads Transformed the World."

Thanks to Mark Boshnack

Full Story: Op-Ed: Slug on the Tracks

Comments

Comments

Somewhat misleading

This article makes it sound as though it would be feasible to achieve French TGV-like train speeds by upgrading the existing Northeast Corridor.

In fact, unless I'm very much mistaken, additional upgrades may shave off an additional half hour from the 3h 30m time between Boston and New York, but not much more. The average speed between the two cities would still be well under 100 mph even with these improvements. Achieving further increases in speed is limited by the existing geometry of the Northeast Corridor, which snakes through heavily built-up urban areas, and by the congestion that results from the mixing of Acela trains with other Amtrak, commuter, and freight trains.

Getting truly TGV-like speeds would require building a brand new line in a greenfield location. Copying the European approach would mean using the existing lines only for short distances to access the central city stations, but then building dedicated brand new tracks with straight geometries, with nothing but high speed trains running on them. (The new route would need to run up the Connecticut River Valley or some other location considerably to the west of a line that runs from Boston to New York.)

All of a sudden this undertaking becomes something more akin to the California high speed rail project, except that California is years further along with planning, design, and financing.

None of this means that it wouldn't be highly worthwhile to improve the Northeast Corridor -- it would be immensely valuable -- but let's not kid ourselves here.

Jake Wegmann

good comparison, scary reality in CA

Welcome to my world! Here in CA, they are convinced it is OK to use that stimulus funding to run the HSR right through the same "heavily built-up urban areas" that make it impossible for the Acela line! They are not running new lines through greenfield, they are running next to century old Amtrak lines that bisect entire established communities. Those of us who are catching on to what a nightmare this is creating are ready to stand at the gates of the White House and beg Obama to please take back that ARRA check. And no, California is not going to hit those top speeds either, look at the route, there is hardly a straight line in the track! The whole thing has been designed for political expediency, to bring jobs to the districts of the politicians who are involved, and not for speed! You want that money to work on the Acela? Go for it, because many of us do not want it in CA! The only people this is benefitting are the well connected contractors that are making bank on this boondoggle!
Cynthia Ward
Anaheim Colony Historic District

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