Imagine going to sleep in New York and waking up in Miami

Railroad employees are holding a banner on the platform in Beijing celebrating the new night train to Hong Kong.

Or, imagine LA to Seattle overnight

China launched overnight high-speed trains from Hong Kong to Beijing and Shanghai this week.

The trips are about 1,200 miles and 750 miles by air, respectively.

From Hong Kong to Beijing, the overnight trip takes 12 hours 30 minutes, and it covers roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Miami or Los Angeles to Dallas.  It complements the 8 hour 15 minute day train that has run for years.

The overnight trip to Shanghai takes 11 hours.  The corresponding day train takes just 7 hours 47 minutes.

(It is important to note that many other high-speed trains use these tracks, only a few go from end to end.)

Two overnight trains headed for Beijing are awaiting passengers in the Shanghai station.
A pair of high-speed night trains headed for Beijing loading passengers in Shanghai in 2011.
A man is using an iPad while sitting on a railway station platform with a high-speed train in the background.

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A view of a sleeper carriage for the new China Railway overnight service between Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. Photo: MTR

Affordable

Both trains leave in the early evening and arrive around 7 a.m. Prices range from $120 to $193 for the Beijing trip and $88 to $273 for the Shanghai trip, depending on whether you book a coach seat, a sleeper cabin, or a deluxe sleeper cabin.

The new trains show the adaptability of high speed rail and how it can be expanded to offer travelers ever-better experiences and options.

Productive

For example, the overnight trips are about a third longer than regular, daytime HSR service from Hong Kong to Beijing and Shanghai. But sleeper trains save riders money by eliminating the need for a hotel stay. They also arrive early in the morning, so business travelers and tourists can schedule a full day of meetings or sightseeing.

And the trains lower the risk of travel delays, which are a persistent problem in China’s air network. The BBC has called the country’s airport bottlenecks a “nightmare.”

Northbound Schedule from Hong Kong. Click photo to see schedule on MTR website.

The Federal Railroad Administration’s vision for the Chicago and Atlanta hubs connect at Nashville, which would create a continuous high-speed line from St. Paul to Orlando. 

Could we do it in the US?

We can have similar rail lines and options, if we choose to. The Federal Railroad Administration has in fact published plans that call for HSR service between cities of similar (or longer) distances. For example, the Midwest Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between St. Paul and Nashville, while the Southeast Regional Rail Plan calls for high-speed trains between Nashville and Orlando.

Together, the plans would create a single HSR line of about 1,500 miles. So, a family in St. Paul could board a sleeper train in the evening and be at Orlando’s Disney World by mid-morning the next day—rested and ready to go, instead of stressed out from driving and poorer from a hotel stay.

The “sweet spot” for high-speed rail has never told the whole story

Of course, the line would also serve millions of people who needed to take much shorter trips. Which is why the idea of a 100 to 400-mile “sweet spot” for high-speed rail has never told the whole story.

A line extending from St. Paul to Orlando would also link Milwaukee to Indianapolis and hundreds of other city pairs. Each segment creates more connections between more cities—making the line more valuable to more people, far beyond just the two endpoints.

Connecting St. Paul to the Magic Kingdom with high-speed trains would open whole new worlds of possibility—all through the Midwest and Southeast. And the same is true for every region of the country. Fast, frequent, and affordable trains connecting cities 1,000+ miles apart should be the norm. It should be routine to have dinner on a train in New York—and wake up the next morning in Miami. Ditto for Los Angeles and Dallas. And so many other cities.

It’s an ambitious goal, true. But it’s not a fantasy.

Passengers ride the high-speed sleeper train D910 bound for Beijing West Railway Station at Hong Kong West Kowloon Station on June 15, 2024 in Hong Kong, China.

Passengers in the diner of the inaugural Hong Kong – Beijing night train.

A man is using an iPad while sitting on a railway station platform with a high-speed train in the background.

It will require a Federally Coordinated Railway Program.

Trains are multi-purpose mobility machines that can make all kinds of trips faster, easier, and more affordable.  But, it will take an ongoing federal program to build bridges, lay new track, and build high-tech trains. Please tell Congress that you want high-speed and regional rail.

Sign the Petition

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