Fast Company

Amtrak's $117 Billion Plan For High Speed Travel

Amtrak

What can you buy for $117 billion? According to Amtrak, you can cut travel times between major East Coast cities in half. You can operate trains at up to 220 miles per hour, and you can start doing it all in just five years.

Amtrak announced a concept plan today for what would be the United States’ first high-speed rail service, connecting Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. The proposed rail line would be completed by 2040, with a launch for some sections as early as 2015. Funding has yet to be finalized, but Amtrak has already requested $2.5 billion from Congress for 2011, and earlier this year Obama earmarked $8 billion of the 2009 stimulus package for high-speed rail service. The rest would come from private investment, according to CEO Joseph Boardman.

With the Next-Generation High-Speed Rail a trip between New York City and Boston would take only 84 minutes, a trek that currently takes over 2.5 hours by Amtrak’s Acela train, or four hours by bus.

Aside from the conveniences this will bring to travelers and daily commuters, the new rail would attract riders away from highway and air travel, detracting from the need for foreign oil and the carbon emissions, and making the Next-Gen the most environmentally sustainable travel option.

Still, Next-Gen pales in comparison to its more institutionalized counterparts in Europe and Asia. Its implementation is scheduled for 51 years after Japan first introduced its Shinkansen high-speed rail. France’s TGV train takes only three hours to cover the 490 miles between Paris to Marseille, whereas Next-Gen would take nearly three-and-a-half hours to travel the 426 miles between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

As uncompetitive as it is, Amtrak’s plan is the first of several investments needed to create a viable modern transit network in the Northeast, cut pollution, and bridge the infrastructure gap.

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13 Comments

  • Bob Jacobson

    It's all a matter of priorities. Right now, transfer payments and outright loss of investment to China and India far exceeds what it would take to improve our own infrastructure -- or at least, to prevent its completely rotting away. What would we rather be doing with the money: playing Halo or murdering people in Pakistan?

    I live in Sweden part-time where the trains are remarkable, CO2 production is decreased and dropping, and people lead very good lives. The economy is the best in the West. They made a decision to fix things up and did. They didn't sit around explaining why it couldn't be done.

  • Jerry Straut

    Andrew: That is 'only' one fourth the Pentagon's budget for one year. A few commuters? The northeast corridor contains more than 50 million people. That is a larger population than the entire west coast. Do you realize that we are already subsidizing the airlines to the tune of $ 16 billion a year. And that doesn't include the money spent to expand certain airports; it is just the budgeted funds for 2009.

    The economic benefit would be huge--especially if we keep the money in the U.S. You have to think ahead. If we can spend $ 650 billion a year on the DOD, money that doesn't generate any new economic growth, then we can certainly pony up the $ 20 billion or so per year for high speed rail.

    One of the key legs of our national security is reducing our dependence on foreign energy. China's little ploy with rare earth minerals is an exquisite demonstration of our vulnerability as well as Japan's. This is in our nation interest.

  • Andrew Krause

    Great, $117,000,000,000 of taxpayer dollars to help those few people who live in the Northeast Corridor. That's only $390 for everybody to provide economic benefit to a few commuters. I realize some of you think trains are the end-all-be-all of transportation and we should be more like those Europeans, but there's the small matter of practicality involved. It's not. So stop.

  • MorinMoss

    If the US cut military spending by 20%, applied a 50% on corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies that only support pig feed and junk food, how much would it save annually?

    The figures I've seen indicate that the Feds would have almost $100 billion extra per year.

  • Andrew Krause

    @Bannor, funding the military is part of the Federal governments responsibility. Buying choo's for yankees is not.

  • Todd L

    @Andrew, just wondering, would you happen to be in a state that receives a lot of agricultural subsidies? Has a lot of Interstates? The simple fact is that across the board, the Northeast states receive relatively little federal assistance relative to the rest of the country. (http://www.visualeconomics.com... Plus, the concentration of major metro areas in the NE corridor is perfect for high speed rail.

    I live on the West Coast, and I'd happily allocate $390 of my taxes this year to get this built. The real absurdity is that it's taken so long for a proposal like this to materialize. I've ridden Japan's Shinkansens and France's TGVs quite a bit, and every time I do I arrive at the same conclusion: America's transportation infrastructure is a joke.

  • Andrew Krause

    I'm not arguing for farm subsidies, I'm arguing against allocating moneys to the benefit of a few people who, quite frankly, should pay for their own marginal benefit. If the Feds want to build an interstate train system (like the interstate highway system) which allows people to move between major cities transregionally, we could talk.

  • James Gannon

    First, the article states that Amtrak is requesting $2.5 billion from Congress, and the $8 billion earmark from Obama is intended for high speed rail projects throughout the country, such as the Midwest High Speed Rail project. The rest of the funding would come from private investors. Therefore, assuming Amtrak received both the full $2.5 billion and all $8 billion of the earmark, that is still only $10.5 out the $117 billion total.

    Second, the New York (largest metropolitan region in the country by over 6 million people), Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Boston metropolitan areas are all ranked in the top ten most populous in the United States - 1, 5, 8, and 10, respectively, according to 2009 US Census estimates - not to mention the significant economic production attributable to those regions.

    An effective high speed rail system would have many benefits. In addition to the environmental and foreign oil dependence issues raised in the article, an efficient and inexpensive rail system would encourage job growth, economy stimulating leisure trips, etc.

    Granted, I live in the DC metropolitan region and applaud such measures, however I am fully supportive of high speed rail throughout the country.

  • Craig Schechter

    "those few people" make up 18% of the U.S. population and are responsible for one quarter of GDP on only 2% of total land. More efficient transportation of people and goods = more productivity and lower costs for goods. Sounds like a good investment to me.

  • Robert Wilkins

    What train are they riding? Today the fastest trip from Boston to NY on Acela is 3.5+ hours. If they can't get current train times right, how can we believe that they will be done 2040 (wow really that long) and under budget. LOL.

  • Phil

    THANK YOU ROBERT. 3.5 hours is the absolute shortest IF you're on the 6 a.m. leaving Boston. Anything heading North WILL be late and will take at least 30 minutes longer. Not sure the author has ever ridden that route. Frequent commuters like me read this piece and laugh at the implausibility.