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LostInParadise's avatar

Is the U.S. ever going to have high speed rail service?

Asked by LostInParadise (27583points) August 30th, 2019

Europe, China and Japan all have high speed rail. It is talked about in the U.S., but nothing has happened. It is long overdue.

I can see high speed rail being competitive with airlines even over fairly long distances, like between New York and Boston or between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I did a google search to see what the problem is. Apparently, lobbying by airlines and oil companies is a big factor. Doesn’t anyone lobby for the railroad industry?

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31 Answers

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Every single time I get stuck in traffic I can’t help but design the routes for a tram system in my head. Mass transit is so underutilized that it’s almost painful.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Rail service? What are you, some kinda commie or somethin’?

JLeslie's avatar

My husband took a job in Nashville, and the traffic and commute is pretty bad. There is one commuter rail line, not high speed, that goes from the center of the city out to the east to suburbs that are not extremely populated. I asked my realtor about future rail lines and she said a few years ago money was allocated for light rail in the metro area, either it was the state or the fed (I don’t remember) to build it. The money was there for the taking. There is already some existing tracks.

From what she told me many residents were against. WTH?! Why on earth were they against it? They do have some express buses from the far out suburbs, but the buses are still in the traffic, and in my experience the average middle class person in the burbs doesn’t take a bus, but I don’t know the case here for sure.

My whole point there is I think often times people who aren’t accustomed to trains typically aren’t in favor of them, and don’t see the value.

I wish there were more autotrain lines to bring your car across multiple states, we only have one. Then you have your car at the end.

The last time I rode Amtrak the car I was in needed a renovation. That doesn’t help. Long distance travel, you want it to be pleasant.

Moreover, some routes are cheap, while others are expensive. I feel like train should always be a modest price and for the masses.

I think if at the end of your trip you will need a car, a lot of people opt to drive. Driving your car is the American way. Support your American car manufacturers, and the employees who work there.

It would have to be cheaper to train than fly for people to start liking the idea with as many options as flying. One train a day doesn’t compete with 5 flights a day.

Is the speed the biggest obstacle? Between cities not very far apart, let’s say ten hours or less, the train is easily a viable option to an airport. A ten hour drive or train ride takes about 4–6 hours flying if we are saying start to finish including getting to airport. In America, train stations aren’t set up like airports in most places. They don’t always have easily accessible connecting transportation, food, cleanliness is often lacking, not a safe part of town, only one train each direction per day. In places where there is train frequency, stations in downtown areas, buses and taxis available, those areas tend to be more viable, and people are used to using rail, and are in favor of tax money going to it.

America is different than smaller countries, I’m just talking land mass, but I think high speed in some regions makes a lot of sense. I’d love to have a high speed option for various parts of the country.

I recently saw on American Swamp an episode that touched on the newer rail line in Southern California. Not high speed, more like a subway or elevated local line.

elbanditoroso's avatar

No, not with the politicians and groups like the Tea Party that we have today.

We couldn’t even get some experimental projects done during the last recession because of cries of socialism and private industry. To say nothing of the NIMBY wimps.

And we would rather spend a billion on a stupid-ass border fence than plan for good transportation. That’s America for you.

kritiper's avatar

Someday. But people will have to get over this love of cars and independence.

stanleybmanly's avatar

We are no longer a country willing (or capable) of mastering its public infrastructure challenges. The clues to this are everywhere as the news increasingly reflects the accumulating starvation of revenue available to the public sector.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@kritiper Um, in America? Skeptical.

It would be nice to have some in rural America, like from Springfield to KC, KC to St Louis, etc…The drive is terrible with construction and weather at times.

Darth_Algar's avatar

The Amtrak service here in Illinois is pretty considerable, for the most part. However, the catch is that the state agrees to pay for a good percentage of the costs. If it were up to the feds we’d have like one train that ran in the dead hours of the night and made one or two stops on its way down to New Orleans.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL Once in those cities can you get around safely and easily without a problem? I’ve been to both for a day, but had a car, and have no idea about the public transportation. I guess now a days you can Uber, and you can always rent a car, but then the costs go up if there isn’t cheap good public transportation.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie No, not really, you would have to rent a car. But the drives up there down I-44 or to KC are pretty terrible. KC is better, but STL always has construction and it’s a nightmare drive for me.

kritiper's avatar

One problem with the existing rail services is that there are not two tracks in each direction to handle both freight and passenger service.
But it might happen, someday, maybe, when the oil runs out.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Is it feasible to run a speed rail in existing freight rail tracks? Like inside or outside in the same ‘lane’?
In our area its so rocky and cave-y, I would think a seperate one would be far too expensive since all our existing freight goes to those cities now.
Anyone have rail knowledge?

PS We’re voting on a rail park in our little town, next week. 100 mill plus investment.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Shit, just a well planned commuter system in the larger cities like Atalanta Chattanooga and Nashville would alleviate soo much traffic baloney.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Might be cheaper to make high speed internet. A video call would save precious resources, instead of travel.

JLeslie's avatar

Part of the problem is “smaller” cities don’t do enough mixed use, and don’t encourage density in the outlying areas outside of the bigger cities. Suburban sprawl makes rail less attractive, because you still have to drive to the station, park, walk to the platform, wait for the train, and at the other end probably walk some more, or maybe connect to another bus.

In New York, many buildings have businesses on the main floor. You walk out of your apartment building and within 5 blocks there are all sorts of stores and restaurants. Many of the smaller cities have a lot of business at the city center, but not as much residential, and sometimes the residential gets less desirable over time. Everyone moved out to the burbs and almost all the commuting is one direction. If the burbs had dense centers along the train route with business and shopping and residential, a train would be awesome. It also would crest traffic patterns going in more directions and less density moving in a singular direction. Then the city people and the suburb people are willing to contribute to taxes to build the system, and will pay to use the system, which keeps it financially healthy, although most public transportation systems does not pay for themselves. Usually, tax dollars have to subsidize it. Plus, and this is big, cities like NYC many of the residents don’t own a car. Middle class residents.

I just read up a little on the Nashville light rail, and from what I reas it wasn’t fully funded, so maybe my realtor was wrong. One video said that they couldn’t come to a reasonable deal with CSX to use their tracks. An article said the Koch brothers funded ads saying TN already pays some of the highest taxes in the country (sales tax here is 9.25%) and light rail won’t fix the traffic problem. Gawd, I guess their hands are in everything. Why do the Koch brothers care if Nashville has rail, except I guess maybe the Democrats, the politicians, were in favor of it.

I’m not sure any of what I read has the complete and balanced story.

Most people I know in the middle of the country don’t think to use trains. My husband didn’t grow up in the US, and he never thought to use trains, subways, and buses, until he met me. His family never used public transportation, that was for the poor people. My guess is his parents have never looked at a train or subway map in any city, and they have traveled to many cities in Europe and the US.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie There arent any passenger trains here, where in the Midwest do they have them?

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL You’re right that there are very few cities that have access in the Midwest. There is the line from Chicago that runs south to New Orleans. It goes through St. Louis. You can not only go down to NOLA there is also a line that goes through Little Rock I think into Texas. St. Louis is a hub to go east and west also. You can take a train from there to California or the east coast. I think the one that runs to Cali goes through Kansas City? But, those aren’t commuter trains really, it’s more used for longer distances I would think.

Edit: a line east west that runs through Omaha to Cali also. And a more southern east west too. I’ll try to link a map.

When you vacation do consider using the train? Like I used the train from Quebec City to Montreal. I don’t think my husband would think to use the train if he was the one who planned our vacations.

JLeslie's avatar

Here is an Amtrak map. Red is rail, green is bus connectors. Of course this doesn’t show local light rail and subways, etc.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Light rail should not be confused with railroading including commuter trains or even passenger trains. Passenger train service nowadays is restricted to lines connecting the former major hubs in the country with what is charitably described as miserable passenger service restricted to afterthoughts along the nation’s heavily trafficked freight lines. In the Midwest West of the Mississippi that’s Chicago, Kansas City, and Omaha (of all places). The resulting ongoing and all but assured further isolation of flyover America is for me one of the great tragedies in the evolution of this country. We are living through the results of the NAFTA reality defining rural America both here and South of the border, the only difference being that the immigrants here being hostile to the folks at the Southern borders who are but more desperate copies of themselves or their kids. They ironically have no idea they are ganging up on their fellow desperados.

JLeslie's avatar

I think light rail can’t use the freight tracks, but there are other commuter trains that can. They share the tracks with the freight trains.

I’m not sure if it matters what type of train it is to the average person using the systems, but maybe it does. I don’t know all of the differences.

As far as fast trains using freight tracks, I think the newer fast trains need all new tracks. There is a “fast” train that runs between NYC and DC, it takes 3.5 hours. It isn’t super fast like the trains with the new technologies being used in other countries. It’s run by Amtrak.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@KNOWITALL _“but STL always has construction and it’s a nightmare drive for me”

Good fucking Lord, yes! I’ve been to St. Louis a million times over the past 40 years and the traffic situation has always been atrocious. And there’s always some major construction project going on but, aside from the new (not quite as new now) Busch Stadium, nothing really seems to change.

Darth_Algar's avatar


The Chicago-New Orleans route doesn’t run through St. Louis. It goes south through Illinois making one stop in Carbondale (maybe one in Champagne, I’m not sure), before heading into Kentucky to stop at Fulton (a little ass hick town way the hell out in the sticks, Paducah would make much more sense than Fulton), and then goes on pretty must straight south toward New Orleans. It leaves Chicago at 8:00 PM and, if you’re lucky, gets to New Orleans just a shade under 24 hours later.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@JLeslie “As far as fast trains using freight tracks, I think the newer fast trains need all new tracks. There is a “fast” train that runs between NYC and DC, it takes 3.5 hours. It isn’t super fast like the trains with the new technologies being used in other countries. It’s run by Amtrak.”

Yeah. One of the main reasons why the routes along the northeast corridor (DC-New York-Boston) is so much faster than most of the rest of the country has more to do with ownership than technology used. The northeast is one of the few places where Amtrak actually owns the rail it uses. Most other regions Amtrak leases track usage from the commercial rail lines and must give them the right-of-way if the commercial trains insist. Sometimes a train will voluntarily move aside and allow the Amtrak to pass first, but they’re under no obligation (explicit or implied) to do so.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar Thanks for the correction. I do see now on the map I linked that the line going north south through St. Louis is the one that goes Chicago to St. Louis, Little Rock, Dallas, San Antonio.

I remember the traffic in St. Louis being very heavy too.

The fare for Memphis to NOLA was very reasonable when I lived in Memphis. Sometimes $50 one way. I always wanted to take the train to NOLA, but never did. One negative was it left ridiculously early in the morning. The schedule might be different now. Only one train a day.

About the tracks, that was one of the obstacles with the Nashville project supposedly. CSX owned the rails and weren’t being cooperative. I think CSX owns the tracks for the MARC commuter train in Maryland (not to be confused with the Washington metro system). I lived in Maryland many years and never took that train. I didn’t even know it existed until fairly recently, which is surprising to me, my dad told me about it. He was surprised too when he learned about it. We had a DC metro stop fairly close to us though (we still had to drive to it) so we always used that if we didn’t want to drive in towards DC, but that other train goes out to the Baltimore area.

I love trains. I love all transportation. I thought about a degree in urban planning and transportation. I regret not taking some classes in it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie I’ve never been on an train, other than fancy dinner trains. It’s on my bucket list though.

Some friends go to Alaska and said the train there is amazing.

kritiper's avatar

How flat the terrain is between points to be serviced matters a great deal. It’s one reason they can have that high speed service in those places mentioned by the OP.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL the train right in western Canada is supposed to be very nice. I took a train in Alaska, I think it was a couple hours round trip, an older train, no food, of an old gold rush route, that was nice and scenic. It was one of the stops we made on a cruise, I picked that as an excursion.

The first time I moved to Florida I took the auto train so I didn’t have to drive the entire long drive from Maryland.

When I’m in NYC I’m constantly on trains and subways. There is some statistic that I don’t remember for the average number of people underground in the middle of the day in NYC (which is mostly using the subway transportation, NY doesn’t have lots of underground walkways and shops and things underground like cities more north) and it’s a huge number. If all of those people were above ground the city would be impossible. It’s already so crowded on the streets both pedestrians and cars.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

One thing is for certain, the way we rely on automobiles here in the states is not sustainable. The way our cities are designed around cars does not help at all. Most cities on the large side have just a few main arteries leading into and through town. Paralleling commuter rail with them would be wise. The suburban sprawl connections could be made with dedicated trolley systems and short walking/bike paths. Anything to encourage people to get up and move around too.

JLeslie's avatar

^^In Tokyo parts of the city has elevated roads over roads. That country also has a large auto industry too though, so the mindset was probably a lot like the US. Although, in Tokyo they do of course have a large subway system and a nice train system.

From what I’ve been told, Detroit used to have some sort of rail or trolley system way back in the day and the auto industry effectively dismantled it. I don’t know if it’s true.

kritiper's avatar

Lots of cities had interurban rail systems back in the day. Some were even electrified. And, yes, automobiles did them in. But we do have a bus system around here now, and have had it for about 50 years.

Sagacious's avatar

No. We like our cars.

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