Faster Amtrak?

Pair of trains at South Station Boston. Acela ...

Pair of trains at South Station Boston. Acela Express trains in Boston, on the Northeast Corridor, currently the only line used for high-speed rail in the U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Obama administration has a vision for high speed rail in the United States.  Now Amtrak is going to dip their toe in the water towards that vision.

On Amtrak’s line between Chicago and St. Louis there will be a brief, 15 mile section of the trip that the train will zoom all the way to 110 mph before returning to it’s normal train like pace.

While 110 mph seems fast, current bullet trains in Europe and Asia routinely travel at a consistent 150 mph through their routes.  India’s state run rail system is beginning to convert a line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to run at 186 mph.  This will reduce the travel time from seven hours to two and a half hours for the 1.1 million annual users of the line.

Amtrak’s Acela Express is the current high speed rail standard for American high speed rail.  Acela Express top speed of 150 mph is currently the only rail service  that exceeds the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) 125 mph definition of high speed rail.  The Acela Express average speed,  including stops,  is 80 mph between Washington and New York.  The overall maximum speed during the trip is 150 mph on two sections of track, one in Rhode Island and one in Massachusetts.

Amtrak has a current vision of updating and upgrading it’s Northeast Corridor to the tune of $151 billion of your tax dollars.  This update envisions a 37 minute commute between Philadelphia and New York on Amtrak.

While Amtrak should be applauded for looking to the future of high speed rail, there continues to be sections of slow and rough track ahead for the rail line.  Recently governors of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds, for high speed rail.  The governors asserted that not enough people would ride the trains and their states would be hit with a crippling financial burden for future rail operations.

Yet to be addressed as Amtrak desires to move forward are Amtrak’s  lackluster ridership and the Federal Government subsidy of $1.5 billion. Also unaddressed, since 2002, the rail monopoly has lost more than $80 million annually on its beverage and food services, with much of the loss due to fraud and theft.

Overall, it is evident that Amtrak has plenty of work ahead to get back up to speed.

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