High-speed rail is in the news again, this time with a surprising -- and to me, confusing -- announcement by Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and ranking rail subcommittee member, at Washington's Union Station. According to this Washington Post article, Mica said the Department of Transportation wants Congress to get to work funding high-speed rail projects in 10 states, including Northeast Corridor service that will cut the New York-Washington trip to two hours. The odd part of this to me is that I can't find anything on the Web sites of DOT or the Federal Railroad Administraton (a DOT agency) that says this is what this administration, after eight years of little interest in the topic, has proposed or when it proposed it. Mica is practically the only source in the story. I don't find any announcement's on Mica's own Web site either.
Something else confusing: Wasn't Amtrak's Acela service supposed to be high-speed rail? Yes, it was, and by U.S. standards it already is. But Acela s not as fast as trains in Europe that run on their own right-of-way dedicated to intercity passenger trains. The NEC shares space with SEPTA, NJ Transit, MetroNorth, and Maryland commuter trains, and freight trains. Building it to accommodate Acela's top speed of about 125 mph was expensive and difficult enough, and the combination of drawbacks means trains now operate at an average speed of 84 mph, according to the Post. Now a leading proponent of more of this investment, including speedy trains in Florida, indicates if Congress and the Obama administration get to work, we can build a new Northeast line in three to 12 years?
Here's one idea for trimming the NY-Washington travel time to two hours: Don't let any trains stop in Philadelphia, or Newark, or Wilmington (sorry Joe) or Baltimore. It just slows them down too much. Of course, those happen to be the places enough people get on or off to make the whole system work the way it does. What do you thinK?