August Editorial — Is he dead or alive? Progress of high-speed rail in the United States
The California High-Speed Rail Authority continues to make substantial construction progress.
My son looked like an unlucky raccoon lying on the sidewalk.
A back injury forced him to miss all of high school’s summer league, so for the herd of college scouts watching his team play, he might as well have been killed on the road in his street clothes. Fortunately, he will have another summer season to reincarnate his chances in some sort of basketball scholarship.
All month, I just wanted to shout from the gym rooftops, “MY SON IS 6-8 AND STILL GROWING!” HE’S ATHLETIC, HAS GREAT VISION ON THE COURT AND CAN DUNK! To do that would cause a scene, and even if I did it too well sometimes, my wife wouldn’t tolerate it. One look from her and I’d be that unlucky raccoon.
The high-speed rail industry in the United States has been advertising a transportation giant for years. They shout all the right things: “GET TO YOUR DESTINATION FASTER! RIDE AND SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT! Sit back and dream of diving!” However, several factors stunted this giant’s growth, and the weight of all the pressure hurt his back.
Brightline was the first out of the station, and its high-speed lines in Florida show promise. The route between Miami and West Palm Beach can only carry trains traveling at around 80 mph, as the journey is mostly on the existing right-of-way, making true high speed impossible. The road to Orlando International Airport is nearing completion and a service that will connect Orlando to Tampa is in the works. Speeds should be over 80, but it won’t be fast Japan. High-speed trains in the Far East can zoom at over 200 mph.
The California high-speed rail project has received the most media attention over the past two years, but not because of the progress. Eventually, the road will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, but political hesitation and funding problems have segmented the project. Sections are built here and there.
Then there’s the ambition of Texas Central, which wants to build a zipline from Dallas to Houston. Like the California version, the track will primarily be built on new rights-of-way that can produce true high speeds on the rail. Texas Central, however, didn’t have a CEO at press time and still doesn’t have the funding it needs to get started.
My colleague, David Lester, wrote an excellent article on Last Stop (see A requiem for HSR in America, May 2022) where he expressed serious doubts about the establishment of genuine high-speed rail service, which could challenge the airliners to a race. I also recently came across a Facebook post from a gentleman who was shouting from the rooftops about the promise of high-speed rail in the United States: “THIS WILL BE FANTASTIC! WE WILL SOON BE ABLE TO CROSS THE COUNTRY AT TRAIN SPEEDS YOU ONLY SEEN IN EUROPE AND THE FAR EAST! IT’S A SLAM DUNK!
Yes, I paraphrased a bit, but the post was bubbling with enthusiasm. I fall between Lester’s lackluster attitude and Facebook frenzy. I believe the train lines in Texas and California (and let’s not forget Brightline West connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles) will eventually reach high speed. But the worst cost is yet to come in California, as tunneling and construction work in difficult terrain awaits. Brightline West faces a similar challenge. Could the Houston ride be the first to reach speeds of over 200 mph? Dare I say yes?
I feel like a raccoon in the headlights.
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