President Obama outlined his vision today for high-speed rail service in the U.S, identifying 10 corridors in heavily populated regions around the country – from the Pacific northwest to the gulf states – for the laying of hundreds of miles of new tracks.
The stimulus bill that passed in February set aside $8 billion for the initiative. The Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding grants late this summer after a competitive bidding process amongst rail companies.
Proponents of high-speed rail say the system will ease traffic congestion by lessening vehicular and plane travel, cut pollution by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and also create jobs in a down economy. “My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America,” President Obama said today. “High-speed rail is long overdue.”
Indeed, the U.S. is well behind other nations when it comes to speedy railways. Bullet trains zip across Japan, Korea, Germany, France, Italy and Spain at speeds up to 217 miles (350 kilometers) per hour, while the only high-speed rail corridor in the U.S. – Amtrak’s Acela line that runs from Washington, D.C. to Boston, Mass. – pokes along at an average of 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour, the Economist reports.
In addition to the $8 billion available now, Obama intends to provide $1 billion annually for the next five years to help see the rail projects to completion. However, each individual project could end up costing in excess of even the full $8 billion on hand, according to the Economist – California, for example, has plans to connect its major cities with 200 mile (320 kilometer) per hour railways to the tune of $40 billion.
It remains to be seen if the speedy new railcars will impress like those described on the cover page of the very first issue of Scientific American, published in August of 1845: “The manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of excellent improvements in the construction of trucks, springs, and connections, which are calculated to avoid atmospheric resistance, secure safety and convenience, and contribute ease and comfort to passengers, while flying at the rate of 30 or 40 miles per hour.”
The best train cars of that era did not lack in style, either, at least in the eyes of the writer: “Let any person contrast the awkward and uncouth cars of ’35 with the superbly splendid long cars now running on several of the eastern roads, and he will find it difficult to convey to a third party, a correct idea of the vast extent of improvement.”
[top] A high-speed train in Korea, called the HSR-350x or the Korean G-7. Image credit: Lakshmix/Wikimedia