What is High-Speed Rail?
- High-speed trains. Today’s fastest trains cruise at 220 mph.
- Dedicated high-speed lines. High-speed lines are like interstate highways with gentle curves and easy hills. All other railroads, roads, and walkways go over or under the tracks to create a sealed corridor.
As a result, high-speed rail is twice as fast as driving and more convenient than short flights.
High-speed rail should be a part of a larger network of trains, buses and other modes that all work together. With easy and reliable travel connections, more people are drawn to the network. More demand makes the case for more frequent service, which further drives demand.
Better yet, high-speed trains often run on conventional tracks too, so they can serve cities and towns far beyond the high-speed line.
So high-speed rail is really the heart of a rich and complex system linking together hundreds of cities and towns with seamless and nearly effortless mobility.
Most countries use the Integrated Network Approach–gradually adding new segments of high-speed line to their existing network while upgrading connecting “shared-use” lines (which can be used by intercity, commuter, and freight trains) and local transit systems.
In some cases, high-speed trains run in “unified service” using both high-speed and shared-use tracks in a single trip. In other cases, passengers can buy a single ticket and switch easily between high-speed and conventional trains.
The first segment of European high-speed line was just 180 miles long, but it improved travel for the entire southeast region of France.
18 cities and towns got direct service by high-speed trains. Many others saw better service through connecting trains and buses.
We can take this approach in the US.
We lack a vision and a master plan.
In North America, planning, building and running trains is split up among many agencies and companies. So, planning is focused on individual railroad segments rather than a comprehensive network. Everyone will benefit from faster trains, but without the big-picture network view, it is hard to coordinate all the stakeholders.
The 2018 California Rail Plan is the first to take a statewide big picture view. The Federal Railroad Administration is creating regional sketch plans that can be used to build a nationwide vision.
Together, we can push these plans forward.