Better Tracks, Better Trains, and a Big-Picture Plan
The Phased Network Approach combines the transformative power of high-speed lines with the geographic coverage of existing infrastructure.
High-speed trains are a lot like regular trains, with steel wheels traveling over steel rails. But on dedicated, high-speed tracks, they can go really fast. Today’s fastest trains regularly travel at 220 mph. (A French test train reached 357 mph, the current record.)
Because they use the same basic technology as conventional trains, high-speed trains can take advantage of our existing railroad network.
Just as a car journey begins on regular roads and then moves to an interstate highway, high-speed trains travel seamlessly over both shared-use tracks and new, high-speed tracks.
That’s why, in the Phased Network Approach used by most countries, segments of high-speed line blend seamlessly with upgraded conventional tracks that accommodate slower passenger and freight trains.
So a single, high-speed segment creates faster travel to many destinations—not just two end-point cities. That multiplies the value of high-speed rail investments and leads to broad, strong political support for trains and transit.
Each country has taken a slightly different approach to meet its local needs, but all networks share three key elements:
A. A big-picture, long-term plan that coordinates multiple projects
B. Modern, High-Performance Trains built to the safer, and more cost effective, European safety standards. Modern high-speed trains also take curves and accelerate faster on conventional tracks than older trains—saving riders time and frustration.
C. Three different kinds of tracks
- High-Speed Lines transform travel with frequent trains running from 125 mph to 250 mph, depending on local conditions. They’re flat and straight, with gentle curves. There are no intersections and no crossings, since all roads and other railroads go over or under the line, and heavy freight trains run on separate tracks. The line is protected with fencing and electrified—since that’s the best, and greenest, way to power trains.
- Urban Trunk Lines use existing rail corridors through cities to create electrified tracks for lightweight passenger trains—both high-speed and commuter. Heavy freight trains use separate tracks. Preferably, there are no highway crossings. Urban trunk lines maximize the value of existing infrastructure and reduce the initial cost of building a viable high-speed line.
- Shared-Use Lines use upgraded existing routes to connect cities and towns. Passenger trains mix with heavy freight trains. Most commuter and Amtrak lines are shared-use lines.) Notable examples include the Capitol Corridor in California, the Lincoln Corridor in Illinois, and the Brightline/Virgin Rail line in Florida.