Will the French Run the US High Speed Rail System?


Instead of attempting to install a country-wide high-speed rail network from scratch, perhaps we should rely on the expertise of countries that already have comprehensive rail systems. That’s the thinking behind French national railroad operator SNCF’s 1,000 page proposal for a high-speed rail network in the U.S. SNCF is behind France’s impressive 357mph TGV system.

The proposed network will rely partially on Obama’s $8 billion in high-speed rail stimulus funds, but the entire project will cost $140 billion. SNCF’s proposal envisions the first phase of the network completed in 2018 with a line from Milwaukee to Detroit, with 600 foot long trains that zip by at 220mph carrying 500 to 550 passengers each. When the entire project is completed in 2023, SNCF hopes that service to each destination will take 4 hours or less.

The exorbitant cost of the system could be difficult to earn back, but SNCF claims that revenue will come to $4.15 billion each year based on prices of $0.40 to $0.42 cents per mile. And SNCF has some competition in the the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which has also expressed interest in dipping into high-speed rail stimulus funds. But SNCF has something that no organization in the United States can claim: experience. With a project of this magnitude, that’s a big deal.