High-Speed Rail 101
High-speed rail is a proven technology, with over 28,000 miles of high-speed line in over 20 countries.
A broad coalition of supporters with a big, bold vision - and the patience for step-by-step progress - can bring this transformative technology here.
A successful demonstration project will prove the case.
Please join with us in asking Congress to create a national policy for high-speed rail.
Wait...Why don't we have high speed rail?
In short, inertia.
Responsibility for trains is split up among many agencies and companies. Everyone will benefit from faster trains, but without federal leadership, it is hard to make it happen.
Drivers faced in similar problem until Congress created the Interstate Highway System in 1956. It was the world’s largest government construction program and the early success of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 made it politically possible.
The Interstates were built over a forty-year period, with segments of new highway that opened every year. Drivers used, and still use, both the old and new highways in a single journey. The highways are multi-purpose, combining short trips with long and business travelers with tourists.
High-speed rail will require a similar approach: A federal program implemented by state and local governments in partnership with private business.
And there is good news. There are several projects competing to be the first the proof of concept like the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Most countries use the Phased Network Approach–gradually adding new segments of high-speed line to their existing network while upgrading connecting shared-use lines and local transit systems.
Each country takes a slightly different approach to serve local needs, but their networks share three key elements: a long-range plan, the right kind of tracks, and the right kind of trains.
In some cases, high-speed trains run on both high-speed and shared-use tracks. In other cases, passengers can buy a single ticket and switch trains to get to their destination. The key is easy and well-timed connections.
This approach uses multiple types of trains to bind hundreds of cities and towns together. In the process, it builds popular support for trains of all kinds.
How we can make high speed rail happen?
The Fast Act—which governs federal surface transportation programs—expires this year.
The structure and content of the new law are now being debated. It’s critical that the replacement includes a strong rail title—including at least a $10 billion annual authorization for to create a long-term plan, build the right tracks and buy new trains.
Here's what Congress should fund:
High-speed rail is about much more than connecting major cities in short corridors.
A successful passenger rail system will serve many people, traveling for many purposes, to many places, at times spread throughout the day.
That means building rail networks that bind hundreds of cities and towns together by combining both high-speed and conventional trains.
The California State Rail Plan of 2018 is the first to take this holistic approach. They’ve shown that a big picture plan helps justify better service on each segment. That increases ridership, which increases the value of the system overall.
It’s a virtuous cycle: A well-coordinated system feeds more riders into the individual segments; and when riders use the individual more, the more the broader system thrives.
As a result, there is a stronger business case—and more political support—for making transformative investments.
A successful high-speed rail network will combine three types of tracks:
High-Speed Lines built like Interstate Highways, with no road crossings and dedicated to lightweight trains going between 125 and 220 mph. These lines bring the speed and frequent departures needed to compete with the automobile.
Shared-Use Lines where passenger trains share track space with heavy freight trains. These connect many cities and towns to the network.
Urban Trunk Lines use existing rail corridors through cities to create a path for both high-speed trains and commuter trains.
New trainsets are urgently needed. Most of the trains operating in our country today are 20 to 40 years old. Those need replaced and more added to expand service.
Like new cars, modern trains are safer, more fuel efficient and accelerate faster than the antiques we have running today.
Some new trains are on the way, but we’ll need to step up the progress quickly.