Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

High-Speed Rail

A class of graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania has created a plan to rebuild the Northeast Corridor as a true high-speed rail line that would transport passengers from Philadelphia to New York City in 37 minutes.

 

New high-speed trains will link 80 percent of Americans within 25 years, at a cost of about $500 billion, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday.

Amtrak´s new Acela Express train is seen against the Manhattan skyline as it heads to Boston. The Acela Express is the first high-speed rail service in North America, moving across the Northeast at a top speed of 150 mph. (DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Amtrak's new Acela Express train is seen against the Manhattan skyline as it heads to Boston. The Acela Express is the first high-speed rail service in North America, moving across the Northeast at a top speed of 150 mph. (DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images)
 The latest generation of French high-speed train, the AGV, under construction at the Alstom Transport factory in La Rochelle. (PAUL NUSSBAUM/Staff)
The latest generation of French high-speed train, the AGV, under construction at the Alstom Transport factory in La Rochelle. (PAUL NUSSBAUM/Staff)

Today, French engineers, welders, and electricians work in long sheds for the French manufacturer Alstom Transport, building the great-great-grandchildren of those early trains. They hope their new customers will include the old bosses, the Americans.

Since the United States has no high-speed rail industry of its own, foreign manufacturers are vying to sell their train systems here.

As the United States takes its first tentative steps toward high-speed rail travel, the initial hurdle is the biggest: money. In the past, the nation's enthusiasm for fast trains has evaporated. This time, politicians and railroaders believe the momentum is greater than ever before.

 

The federal government, since 1991, has designated 10 corridors for high-speed rail development, including the Philadelphia-to-Pittsburgh "Keystone Corridor."

President Barack Obama looks on as Vice President Joe Biden makes comments about high speed rail during a Jan. 28 visit to the University of Tampa, in Tampa, Fla. (CHRIS O´ MEARA/AP)
President Barack Obama looks on as Vice President Joe Biden makes comments about high speed rail during a Jan. 28 visit to the University of Tampa, in Tampa, Fla. (CHRIS O' MEARA/AP)
International officials are pictured in front of the high-speed train (AVE), linking Zaragoza to Madrid on May 29, 2009. (PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images)
International officials are pictured in front of the high-speed train (AVE), linking Zaragoza to Madrid on May 29, 2009. (PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/Getty Images)

In Europe, fast trains are transforming the continent, bringing cities and countries within a few hours of one another, creating new economies and manufacturing jobs, and making some air travel obsolete. Is this America's future, or simply a glimpse of a far-off world we'll never inhabit?

 

To test the promise of high-speed rail against the reality of today's travel, The Inquirer compared journeys on the popular and crowded corridor between Philadelphia and Boston.