Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Real Future of High-Speed Rail in the US

We've seen the official plan for high-speed rail in the US. Now The Infrastructurist has a very handy map on what we can actually expect to see built in the near (and not-so-near) future.



Says the site:
The colors indicate the seriousness of planning for the corridors. Red lines represent projects that are partially funded or providing high-speed operation today; pink lines are under intensive state planning and likely to be among the first to receive stimulus funds; green lines are far off but not inconceivable; and blue lines are very unlikely to be built in the next few decades.
The only existing "high-speed" rail line is the Northeast Corridor, aka the Acela, that runs between Boston and Washington, DC, and the modest speeds of that line barely qualify it for high-speed status. The first truly high-speed rail in the US is likely to be the line between San Francisco and LA. It will have speeds up to 220 mph, and a $10 billion bond was approved by voters last year to begin construction; other than the Northeast Corridor, it's the only red line on this map.

The pink lines include the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, which will run between Washington, DC and Charlotte, NC; New York HSR (which appears to be roughly coterminous with the officially sanctioned Empire Corridor); portions of the Chicago Hub network connecting Chicago to Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee; the Cascades Corridor, which will run between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland; a Tampa-Orlando line, the first stage in the Florida HSR plan; and the Texas T-Bone, which could end up providing the transportational spine of the Texas Triangle megaregion (and which has a more sensible orientation than the government's official plan for high-speed rail, in that it connects Houston, the state's largest city).

One thing to note is that red and pink lines together are represented in 20 states. That means 20 governors and 40 senators have incentive to push for some of that funding. Add green lines and you're talking about a majority of states (and senators) that would be invested in high-speed rail development. Since political support will be needed to make good on these plans, that's significant, and could also lead to cascading momentum for the entire high-speed rail plan; if, for instance, progress begins to be made on the Southeast Corridor between DC and Charlotte, you can imagine an envious Atlanta wanting to get into the game, and an extension of the line to the Peach State would become all the more likely. And by the way, that's why I think the Infrastructurist's characterization of the blue lines in their map as "very unlikely to be built in the next few decades" may be a bit of an overstatement. I'm not sure how we could know what the political support for these plans might be in, say, 20 years, but it seems very possible that as progress gets made on some of these main lines, support for some of the secondary lines here will increase considerably. Another big spike in the price of oil, which would make both driving and flying more expensive, also might help to kick-start some of those plans.

You can zoom in on the map and click on rail lines, which link to more detailed information on each of the high-speed rail plans (which is the source for most of the links above). The infrastructurist also has a chart that compares some of the biggest current high-speed rail plans in the world. The most ambitious, in length, speed, and population served, is the line between Shanghai and Beijing. California is next, followed by plans for Argentina, Saudi Arabia, France-Italy, the Netherlands, and Israel.

Via Matt Yglesias.

34 comments:

Anthony said...

This is encouraging. But if the California line will cost $10b, how much rail line (and where?) can be bought with just $8b in stimulus money?

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Baby steps, baby steps...

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