UK Government Launches £250M 5-Year Plan for Cutting CO2 from Road Transport; Includes Incentives for Purchase of PHEVs and EVs
ARB Fines Nissan $4.4M on OBD Failures

President Obama Outlines Vision and Plan for US High-Speed Passenger Rail System; $13B to Start

The envisioned high-speed rail corridors. Source: DOT. Click to enlarge.

President Barack Obama, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, released a strategic vision and plan for a high-speed passenger rail (HSR) system in the US. The plan identifies $8 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ARRA and $1 billion a year for five years requested in the federal budget as the components of an initial %13 billion investment.

The strategic plan will be followed by detailed guidance for state and local applicants. By late summer, the Federal Railroad Administration will begin awarding the first round of grants. Additional funding for long-term planning and development is expected from legislation authorizing federal surface transportation programs.

Energy efficiency of passenger transportation modes. Source: DOT. Click to enlarge.

The plan notes that rail is already among the cleanest and most energy-efficient of the passenger transportation modes. A future HSR/IPR (high-speed rail/intercity passenger rail) network using new diesel or electric power can further enhance rail’s advantages. According to a 2006 study cited by the Administration, implementation of pending plans for the federally designated HSR corridors could result in an annual reduction of 6 billion pounds of CO2 (2.7 MMTCO2).

The near-term investment strategy seeks to:

  • Advance new express high-speed corridor services (operating speeds above 150 mph (241 km/h) on primarily dedicated track) in select corridors of 200-600 miles (322-966 km).

    (As examples from other countries, China runs trains on its 114 km Beijing–Tianjin Intercity Rail line at a top speed of 217 mph (350 km/h) and is buying 100 350 km/h trains for the upcoming Beijing-Shanghai corridor. (Earlier post.) Spain is also placing trains (the AVE Series 103, from Siemens) with a maximum speed of 350 km/h in service on selected corridors. Japan’s Shinkansen links most major cities at speeds up to 186 mph (300 km/h).)

  • Develop emerging and regional high-speed corridor services (operating speeds up to 90-110 mph (145-177 km/h) and 110-150 mph (177-241 km/h) respectively, on shared and dedicated track) in corridors of 100-500 miles (161-805 km).

  • Upgrade reliability and service on conventional intercity rail services (operating speeds up to 79-90 mph (127-145 km/h)).

The plan identifies two types of projects for funding. One would create new corridors for world-class high-speed rail; the other would involve making train service along existing rail lines incrementally faster.

The report formalizes the identification of ten high-speed rail corridors as potential recipients of federal funding:

  • California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
  • Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
  • South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
  • Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
  • Chicago Hub Network( Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
  • Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
  • Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
  • Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
  • Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
  • Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

In addition, opportunities exist for the Northeast Corridor (Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, New Haven, Providence, Boston) to compete for funds for improvements to the existing high-speed rail service, and for establishment and upgrades to passenger rail services in other parts of the country.

The Obama Administration is urging states and local communities to put together plans for a network of 100 mile to 600 mile corridors, which will compete for the federal dollars. The merit-driven process will result in federal grants as soon as late summer 2009.

Under the plan, high-speed rail development will advance along three funding tracks:

  • Individual Projects. Providing grants to complete individual projects that are “ready to go” with completed environmental and preliminary engineering work – with an emphasis on near term job creation. Eligible projects include acquisition, construction of or improvements to infrastructure, facilities and equipment.

  • Corridor programs. Developing entire phases or geographic sections of high-speed rail corridors that have completed corridor plans, environmental documentation and have a prioritized list of projects to help meet the corridor objectives.

  • Planning. Entering into cooperative agreements for planning activities (including development of corridor plans and State Rail Plans) using non-American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) appropriations funds. This third approach is intended to help establish a structured mechanism and funding stream for future corridor development activities.




This is a very good first step to partially introduce high speed (not TGV very high speed) type passenger rail systems in USA.

Of course, many more similar programs would be required to catch up with Europe, Japan and future China planned systems.

European TGV style e-tains are much more efficient (more than twice) than those shown on the supplied graph.

Why couldn't USA, with very distances and large population, have a comprehensive network of very high speed TGV style e-train?

Keith Beecham

Would this all be under Amtrak, or regional offices? If it's under Amtrak, they're going to have to figure out how to lower prices if they want people to start using rail. As an example, the cheapest rate I could find to go from Trenton, NJ to New York's Penn Station (a trip of less than one hour) is $87; the same trip on the exact same rails is $25 on New Jersey Transit.


This makes one think that perhaps our state governments and other presidents and the congress were asleep while the rest of the world was developing high speed rail. Or, they were bought off by special interest, i.e., the short haul airlines. The U.S. is at least 40 years behind Europe and Japan in high speed rail as a result. Shame on our broken government who are being run by special interest!


In 1850, they wanted to get from east to west. By 2000, it was known where the population was and where they travel. Going intercity makes sense, cut down on commuter traffic. North/South, East/West trains running like clockwork.


I am sorry, but trains, high speed or otherwise, are outmoded technologies with outmoded operating models -- large boxes scheduled to carry mass of passengers with infrequent runs on expensive, but little used right of way, then stopping at every possible stop because 1 person wants on or off.

Reduce the vehicle size, the rail size/weight, automate the system with fewer stops (fewer 1 person needs), have on-demand schedules. That will produce high usage, lowerer unit costs (thus even more usage), lower capital costs, and potential profit.

In other words, use the Personal Rapid Transit approach with the newest technology, small cars (not more than 12 passengers, and perhaps less). They can be electric, and made of composites rather than steel and the size of a barn.

I like the network approach and an alternative to air and autos, though.


There may be some advantages to being late to the game. Now there exists technologies and ideas that were non-existent in the past. We have the advantage of learning from the implementation and maintenance programs of others, and therefore have the potential to create better systems.


The Personal Rapid Transit approach would have more merit in local travel. In long distance so high speed travel aerodynamics becomes critical. Small cars have a high drag (high frontal area) per passenger and so do not score well in this area.


I would support high-speed rail if all the projects were elevated (to allow for traffic to flow underneath), like the experimental MagLev project in Germany (but safer) or like the Disney monorail. But I have seen waaaaaay too many news stories of vehicle-train collisions with fatalities.


I am passionately pro-environment but very unconvinced that high-speed rail is the model for the U.S. outside of the NorthEast corridor. For people going from Washington D.C. to Boston, I see the advantages and economics. That allegedly is a profitable rail route today, owing to the population density all along the way, and the long-since paid-off infrastructure.

I voted against the California high-speed rail ballot initiative because of the inherent energy costs of laying 500 miles of tracks, and the dubiousness of the project ever earning back its costs. Drive = 8 hours. Train = 3 hours. Plane = 1 hour. Trains would have to charge more than planes for decades to break even, if ever they do, as Amtrak attests.


The train plan won't work if the trains are run according to the current model. The idea is to run electric trains medium distances non-stop. For example, the CalTrain would run from Sacramento to San Francisco to L.A. with a possible stop in Fresno. The argument is they will take the place of medium distance air craft and will be faster when you consider the trip time to the airports and the security waits, etc. In time I can see a federal program that will tie Oregon and Washington to the system.

Think of the reduction in air pollution these trains will produce by replacing oil-burning jet planes.


@eji: have you heard about bridges and underpasses?

@healthybreeze: one hour on the airplane only count the flight, you have to take into account check-in and security times, and baggage reclaim, plus the transfer between the airport and where people actually leave. In europe, a distance that can be covered by train in less than 4 hours is competitive with the plane (around 500km)


IMO it is very important that the rail network of a large and heavily populated nation be coherent.

There should not be a comedy of decision making with multiple regulators and stakeholders: states, quasi-governments such as Amtrack, DOT, and on rare occasions decisions actually from the private owners of the RR companies.

We know Washington is going to spend a huge amount of money for things like this. I really hope there will be a coinciding move to simplify control.

About the technical merits of various intracity rail schemes I offer no opinion.

OTOH I am underwhelmed with light rail within cities. At least as I have seen it. LR always seems to devour money and support a huge permanent bureaucracy. Bus systems seem inherently more adaptable and less disruptive to vehicle traffic and pedestrians.



I agree that rail is competitive in high-density areas and that long queues at airports may give rail a slightly longer radius of competitiveness. I think that radius will be inadequate for California.

Also, in California only one city (San Francisco) has a subway to feed in commuters. Los Angeles has almost 2,000 square miles of sprawl, with very poor mass transit. Sacramento, the Bay Area, L.A. and San Diego have 9 major airports, which would be more accessable for most. Population density for the 350 miles between San Jose and Los Angeles is comparatively low, so this seems like a scenario where air travel has an inherent advantage.


I support the idea of high speed train wherever it can be used (high desnity population center with less than 400 miles span) however I am wondering if fan ducted aircrafts flying at 400MPH wouldn't be as energy efficient as train and still faster but for much less capital investment ?

Alex Kovnat

Given the problems posed by building more airports and runways, we might as well give high speed passenger trains a try.

Problem is, how will they be propelled? By electricity? That will require overhead electric wires, and that's costly. The old Pennsylvania railroad never expanded electrification west of Harrisburg.

Great Britain had high speed Diesel trains years ago, using Paxman Valenta high speed Diesel engines. But would they meet contemporary emissions requirements?

The old Milwaukee Road Hiawatha trains were capable of speeds well over 100 miles per hour, but nowadays will people be willing to accept 100 MPH trains blasting through their neighborhoods?

Justin VP

Multi-modal transport is very important, and I would argue that three reliable modes are necessary for transpotation security. Having three modes (road, air, rail) protects us from potential disruptions to any one of the systems. These disruptions could come from economy (oil price), terrorism, natural disasters, bottlenecks in capacity, or even regulation.

Our rail system is lagging far behind our air and road systems, and I am very glad to see it finally getting some attention.

I'm also not sure why folks want rail to pay for itself, when airports and roads aren't expected to do the same. Actually, I'd be happy see fees goes up (fairly) on road/air usage, but all three modes should be treated equally.


Very high speed (TGV Type) e-trains, on dedicated tracks, are (4X most aircraft) the most energy efficient transport mode to move people around with very high established safety standards. The number of car is totally variable to accomodate the traffic load.

Of course there should be no level crossings. We can have a look at Europe if we don't know how to build the infrastructures and trains required. The technologies have been around for 20+ years and are operating very successfully in many countries.


Bravo, This will also increase commerce. Flying sucks. I absolutely freaking dread going to the airport. Baggies for my shampoo, baggage weight restrictions, not being able to move around...

I love european trains with snack cars, wireless internet, ac outlets, etc. If somebody stinky sits next to you just get up and move.


Try riding the superb Japanese Bullet train or the French TGV you may change your mind about high speed rail.


"I am wondering if fan ducted aircrafts flying at 400MPH wouldn't be as energy efficient as train"

The French TGV gets the equivalent of 300-500 passenger-miles per gallon, while today's airliners only get around 60-80. Even if a ducted fan aircraft could double that, it would still be a far cry from the energy efficiency of high speed rail.


On the west coast only an airplane/~3 hours [$300](, I-5 at 1,382 miles/21 hours [~$100 @~$2pg](Google maps), and the PCT 2,650 miles/~3 months [>$300]( will get you non-stop border to border. There would seem to be a market for an efficienct rail system to bridge the gap(s)inbetween.


David wrote; "The Personal Rapid Transit approach would have more merit in local travel. In long distance so high speed travel aerodynamics becomes critical. Small cars have a high drag (high frontal area) per passenger and so do not score well in this area."

In an automated system like PRT it's a simple matter to get the small cars to platoon. On long high speed runs they would travel as a train [in nose-to-tail contact], and gain the same low frontal area to passenger advantage. A platoon would be able to break apart to let one car divert to a stop while the rest of the train continued at full speed.
Here's a youtube that shows the idea-

Andrey Levin

Another dumb project from the megalomaniac. It won’t work for two major reasons:

1) not enough people who do not own cars on this side of the pond;
2) US urban public transportation sucks. One can travel fast on high-speed train, but what would you do afterwards? Wait for local bus?

There are things which should be done first: light rail transit from airports to downtown, and subway in densely populated cities. Without dense subway system in major cities (like it is done in, say, Paris), fast rail lines are bridges to nowhere.


My information was not as empirical or recent as yours, but an article on high speed rail when Australia was thinking of it said that if you increased the train speed and decreased the plane speed to the same then their efficiency would be very close. That said the trains still have other advantages mentioned here.

I understand the concept but with current technology you could not split the platoon unless it was travelling slowly, defeating one of the benefits suggested by JMartin.


That's why I like the platooned PRT idea; you use the same system 'intracity' as you do 'intercity.' Between cities it works like a train while in the city it works like a driverless taxi.

Keywords - "current technology." Platooning has already been shown to work at highway speeds (truckers convoy all the time to save fuel and routinly split up without slowing up & the highway department tested platooning on cars for their automated highways program) so platooning at greater speeds should only require incremental development.

The comments to this entry are closed.