High Speed ​​Rail Efforts in the United States: A History

A group of 10 senators and 65 House members this spring requested $3.5 billion in fiscal year 2023 appropriations for develop high-speed rail corridors. Two years earlier, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., proposed a $205 billion investment build a national high-speed rail network. These efforts are just two of the most recent in a long history of attempts to revive high-speed rail projects in the United States, dating back to High Speed ​​Land Transport Act 1965.

While the United States faltered, the rest of the world built nearly 35,000 miles high speed train, according to the International Union of Railways. The generally accepted definition of high-speed rail is that of trains that can travel at over 160 mph. Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, reaches a 150 mph top speedbut the new Acela trains are expected to reach 160 mph when they enter service in the fall of 2023.

Below are timelines for three U.S. projects under construction or in advanced stages of development. Brightline West and Texas Central are privately developed while the California high-speed rail project is state owned and funded.

California High-Speed ​​Rail Project: Los Angeles to San Francisco

  • 1996

    The state legislature creates the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority.

  • 2008

    California voters approve a $9.95 billion bond measure to build a high-speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The High Speed ​​Rail Authority promises a travel time of less than 3 hours, a construction cost of around $33 billion and trains in service by 2030.

  • 2015

    Construction of the California high-speed rail project begins in Fresno.

  • 2018

    California faults of the state auditor the High Speed ​​Rail Authority for cost overruns, delays and mismanagement of the project.

  • 2022

    Construction is underway for 119 miles in California’s Central Valley. The latest cost estimate to complete the full project is $113 billion. The planned opening of the Central Valley segment in Silicon Valley only is 2031.

Brightline West: Las Vegas to Southern California

  • 2009

    Federal Railroad Administration completes project environmental impact statement for a plan to build a high-speed rail line along the I-15 corridor from Las Vegas to Victorville, California, about 90 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, proposed by a private company DesertXpress.

  • 2013

    Renamed XpressWest, the company applies to FRA for a $5.5 billion loan for the projected construction cost of $6.9 billion.

  • 2016

    An agreement between XpressWest and China Railway International to build the line is canceled.

  • 2018

    Brightline, which operates a train from Miami to West Palm Beach, Florida, acquires the XpressWest project.

  • 2022

    Brightline reports it plans to start construction in 2023 on the 200mph line, now branded as Brightline West, with a target to start service in 2026.

Central Texas: Dallas to Houston

  • 2014

    Texas Central begins work on an environmental impact statement.

  • 2015

    It raises its first funding round with Texas investors.

  • 2019

    He signs a design-build contract with Salini Impregilo and Lane Construction Corp.

  • 2021

    Start of work delayed by one court case on using the eminent domain enterprise begins.

  • 2022

    Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of Texas Central, confirming his right to acquire land under eminent domain.

For more, read Smart Cities Dive’s interview with high-speed rail advocate, Rep. Seth Moulton.

Jose P. Rogers