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The Future of the US Rail System

Presidio Economics | Friday May 6th, 2011 | 4 Comments

This post is part of a blogging series by economics students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By: John Paul Chulliyil

One of the first forms of transportation that served the masses of people traveling throughout the United States was the railroad system.  Presently this country uses many means of transportation that are innovative but create high carbon emissions such as airplanes.  Though trains in the United States are an experience of their own and create less CO2, rail travel in the U.S. lacks advancement in technology and efficiency compared to other rail systems in the world.  As fuel prices steadily increase we need to rely less on airplanes and automobiles and focus our attention on improving our train systems for mass transportation.

Within the past 10 years various countries such as China and England have embarked on projects to create High Speed Train systems to help alleviate the congestion and dependency of vehicles.  The Chinese government has spent a great deal of money and energy creating multiple high speed railway lines.  These trains are intended to cater to the growing middle class traveling from and to the various growing cities throughout China.  If we look at European countries such as England where locals have to spend roughly $7.51 to $7.76 for a gallon of gas, we notice how dependent the country is on transit by train systems.  After much thought in 2010, the British government announced plans to create high speed transit systems to connect Northern Britain to the South.  The government believes that once the transit system is in place, car and domestic airplane travel usage will decrease.

As for the United States, the country is behind in promoting and implementing high speed transit lines as alternate sources of travel throughout the country.  Currently it takes a person three days and $200 to get from San Francisco to New York by train; however, an individual traveling by plane can save time and find cheaper prices.  From a survey in the May 2011 Fast Company magazine, Rachel Z.  Arndt created a chart explaining how slow trains are in the United States compared to the rail systems in other countries.  For example, countries such as China, France, and Spain have train systems that travel 250 miles per hour (mph) or faster, as opposed to the fastest train system in the United States, the Acela, which travels at 150 mph and only travels from Boston to New York.  The goal when rethinking rail systems in the U.S. is to create a system that is faster and more competitively priced for customers than what is currently offered.

Recently vice president Joe Biden announced to the country that the US government will be investing $53 billion within the next six years on a high speed rail network.  Though this is a tremendous amount of money to invest at a time when the country is dealing with unresolved issues such as healthcare and education, this could be the initiative the country needs at a time when other means of travel such as driving and flying are becoming costly.  I realize that the expense of having high speed transit lines is no cheap task and will take a very long time to construct, but as a country we need to envision the long term benefits and potentials of having a rail system that can connect us to more destinations across the country quickly and efficiently.


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  • Matt Schnackenberg

    Ya, Rock Scott screwed Florida out of HSR… he is a complete moron.

  • GESharp

    Matt.. Your Governor did you a favor! The proposed trains would have never paid for themselves. What would a rider do on the other end? Rent a Car? These trains would link cities that have little or no public transportation to other cities that have little or no public transportation. The ticket price would have to subsidized by the state until such time as it makes since to use the new train. It is much like placing the cart before the horse!

    • Nick Aster

      I agree that Florida is not an ideal place for HSR – the cities are far too suburban. Many other cities, however, would be ideal, including major california cities. And yes, in some cases you might still rent a car, but you’d still be saving time and hassel when compared to air travel as long as you were in about a 300 mile radius.

  • Irene Schmid

    For those of us familiar withe the rail system in Europe, there is a lot of best practice to learn from. Switzerland has car sharing at major as well as minor stations. It makes sense to take the inter-city trains, and just walk to the car sharing parking lot in the station to pick up a vehicle. One single annual pass covers all forms of transit, as well as major rebates on car sharing. Never buy a ticket, just walk on whatever meets your needs. Fantastic!