Newsweek: Strong, Bipartisan Support for HSR

Passenger are descending on the escalator to platform level where a Brightline train is waiting.

HSR gets love—and media spotlight—as multiple projects move forward

High-speed rail enjoys strong, bipartisan support in the US. A new poll by Newsweek finds that 60 percent of respondents favor the construction of more HSR lines; just 6 percent oppose it. There is little difference in support among people who backed Joe Biden in the 2020 election and people who backed Donald Trump—67 versus 59 percent, respectively.

The survey also asked whether high-speed trains could become an alternative to short-haul flights in the US, citing a French ban on short flights when there is a train alternative that takes under 2.5 hours. Fifty-eight percent agreed; only 10 percent disagreed. High-speed trains can cover the distance from St. Louis to Chicago—roughly 300 miles—in about 2 hours.

Newsweek notes that Japan, China, and much of Western Europe have extensive HSR networks, and that there has been “a renaissance in interest in high-speed rail in the United States.” The article points to California’s San Francisco – Los Angeles line, now underway in the Central Valley; a Brightline line from LA to Las Vegas, which just broke ground; and a line in Texas being jointly planned by Amtrak and a private railroad company.

In a piece from last week, The Guardian focuses on the Texas project connecting Dallas and Houston (via San Antonio). It notes that the current Amtrak service takes 23 hours, or about an hour more than it would take to cycle between the cities.

With a combined population of more than 15 million people, Dallas and Houston are America’s fourth and fifth biggest metro areas. High-speed trains could cover the 240 miles between them in under 90 minutes, or about 2.5 hours faster than driving. HSR would also remove nearly 15,000 cars daily from I-45, one of the most dangerous highways in America. Surveys show that more than 70 percent of people who currently make the trip would either “definitely” or “probably” take high-speed trains if the option were available.

The Guardian observes that 97 percent of the Texas transportation budget is devoted—by law—to expanding and maintaining roads. And it quotes a rail advocate based in Texas, Peter LeCody, on the challenges posed by the status quo. More people are realizing that “we can’t just keep widening our highways forever,” LeCody says. But building alternatives is “very slow going. We may now be starting to crawl before we walk and then run.” (Sign up now for the Alliance’s August webinar about Megan Kimble’s City Limits, which focuses on Texas transportation politics.)

The Guardian attributes the spiking interest in high-speed trains to “a gush of federal infrastructure dollars, a supportive White House, and rising angst over snarled highways and the climate crisis.” The piece quotes Andy Byford, who became Amtrak’s senior vice-president of high-speed rail last year, on the transformative potential of these first HSR projects.

Byford notes that most Americans have never experienced “the joy of going downtown to downtown” at speeds up to 200 mph “without having to go out to the airport, having to line up in security, and then taxi on the runway and take off and land probably miles away from where you actually want to be.”

“Once we get one route up successfully,” Byford predicts, “people will clamor for more.”

Indeed. In many ways, they already are.

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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