Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why America Doesn't Need High-Speed Rail

Their has been a lot of talk about why America doesn't catch up with the rest of the world and build high-speed trains. I am in favor of a high-speed train but their are some very basic reasons why it just doesn't make sense for the United States.

Americans love convenience,

this is stating the obvious, what I mean by this is very few American's are going to ditch their cars for a train ride, where they'll find themselves on the other end car-less, and having to shell out more money to rent another car on the other end.
Also Americans love to take everything with them when they travel and having to limit their luggage to a few items isn't going to go over too well, think of all the anger about baggage fees (I lived out of a backpack for two months, it's was still small enough to be a carry-on, most American's wouldn't dream of doing this.)
    • American is a very unfriendly country to try and navigate by foot, most cities are built around the assumption you will be exploring them via 2 tons of steel, this makes walking pretty much impossible and defiantly undesirable. 
But people don't take their cars when they fly?

American's don't fly short distances, except for business and the occasional second family, flying is itself an inconvenience, having to limit oneself to such a small amount of clothing and accessories. In fact a lot of American's drive excessive distances just to avoid having to go without 13 different pair of shoes for a week vacation.
Average amount of luggage needed for an America women to go to Las Vegas...for a weekend!
So when American's do fly it's because it saves so much time, because America is huge, just for context, the distance between where I live in Raleigh, NC and the popular vacation spots in California (2546miles), is the further then the distance from Paris to Baghdad (2400miles).

Huge distances mean 300kph gets dwarfed quickly by the speed of planes. for instance,

300kph train (with no stops, HA!)                                           Time in air
                                             New York City to Washington D.C.
                    1hr 10mins                                                            1hr 10mins
                                             New York City to Charlotte, NC
                    3hrs 30mins                                                           2hrs 0mins
                                                       New York City to Miami, Fl
                              6hrs 50mins                                                           3hrs 25mins
                                                       New York City to L.A.
                              15hrs 0mins                                                           5hrs 55mins

The Leftovers
American has a pretty wicked climate, defiantly more brutal then the mild climate of Europe, and due to lack of knowledge I can't comment on the Asian climates. This ads just another obstacle for a high-speed train to need to overcome, also the landscape of America can be quite brutal, but those obstacles can be overcome.

The main problems I see is who would ride this train? Who would opt for a longer ride on a train when they could just as easily get on a plane and make it to their destination quicker?
Oh...and yeah this is what Americans picture when they hear the word "train," that or you know...something dirty.
Some logistics, the fastest train in the world runs at just over 300mph, which is quite fast and could shorten a trip from NYC to D.C., assuming the stop in Philadelphia, which is a must, wouldn't take to long. But the longest high-speed train in the world is just under 1000km, which would comfortable service from Boston to D.C. and be able to have stops in NYC and Philadelphia, however these distances are so short the train would most likely never be able to reach top speeds and thus would be slowed.

So in conclusion the ONLY logical use of a high speed train in America would be a direct non-stop route between NYC and Washington D.C.  And well this may quell traffic and congestion entering these cities it does little more than that, and would probably not be used, you know because it's only a four hour drive and a plane would get you there in approximately the same amount of time.

The fastest train in the world, if you include the accelerating and decelerating would get you from NYC to D.C. in about an hour, how many times a day are they going to run this thing? twice? Seems pretty illogical when you think about it.


  1. Cost is a relevant factor, I think. If it took twice as long but cost half as much, I for one would gladly take a train instead of an airplane. Being able to bring drinks and my pocket knife along for the ride would make it more desirable too.

    Last I checked, though, train tickets were ludicrously expensive, at least via amtrak. I live on the west coast, where there would probably be more potential uses for a high speed rail (driving from the biggest city in California, Los Angeles, to the capitol of the same state in Sacramento takes about seven hours) but I never take the train anyway because it's a fraction of the cost to drive. Even the short jaunt from San Francisco to Sacramento, about an hour to an hour and a half, will set you back a good thirty bucks. The same trip by car takes the same hour to hour and a half (the lower speed being made up by the lack of stops unless the driver has a bladder issue) while gas, even at $4 a gallon out here, will set you back maybe fifteen dollars if you're not driving a bus or a roadster or something. So even figuring in bridge tolls and parking (SF is a horridly expensive city) it's actually both cheaper and faster (unless your destination is within a few blocks of the station) to drive your own car, and that's about the shortest train trip I can think of besides simply taking regional transit.

  2. I did ignore the west coast in my article, and for that I apologize, although the plane to train comparisions would still work out.

    You're right about the costs, and if a train could run the route in a relatively quick time with a low cost than the train would find a customer base.

    However, as Americans we pay a very low price for gasoline (compared with the countries who use these high-speed rails) so the cost benefits are more obvious in places like France.

    But yes I too would happily board a train from LA to SF if the price was right. So it's simply a matter of government subsudies at that point, as the amount of capital needed to build, maintain, and use the trains would be enourmous and wouldn't probably catch on very quickly.

    I for one support the idea of using trains in America, as I mentioned at the very beginning of my article, but I also don't support Wal-Mart so you can see how I am removed from the majority of the populations stance on issues.