Amtrak’s $117 Billion Plan For High Speed Travel

It’s a dream to make Joe Biden weep: trains that connect East Coast cities at 220 miles per hour. But it won’t be finished until 2040. Hear that sound? That’s Europe and Asia laughing.



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.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.