Fifty years in the making: American high-speed rail

There is no question the battle to bring a high-speed-train system to American shores has been long-fought. It’s a conflict that’s been going on 50 years now.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]The movement officially began with President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the High-Speed Ground Transportation Act of 1965 on Sept. 30th. Half a century later, California high-speed rail is making certain headway. It is joined by efforts in Texas (the Texas Central Railway) and in Minnesota (Zip Rail), all three of which continue to face uphill climbs.

There is no shortage of dissenting voices. There are the naysayers, detractors, those critical of and standing opposed to forward progress on the fast-track front, some going so far as to completely write American high-speed rail off – in rants and tirades, in books, letters to newspaper editors, and other media vehicles proclaiming such will never amount to anything more than a vision or dream.

One in particular stands out in the crowd: Mark Reutter’s “How America Led, and Lost, the High-Speed Rail Race.”

Reutter writes: “How did America get to where it is today, a country with the slowest and most threadbare intercity passenger rail service of any advanced nation?

“Not so very long ago, we were not in this humiliating position. In fact, we operated trains that amazed and impressed the rest of the world. These trains were called streamliners, and their very names – Silver Meteor, Flying Yankee, Rocky Mountain Rocket, Denver Zephyr – connoted speed and luxury. In the period between 1935 and 1950, the 10 fastest scheduled passenger trains in the world were all U.S. streamliners.”

While Reutter may have been one to bemoan that once enviable position, others chose to do differently, choosing instead to fix their sights on the railroad ahead.

That the United States is where it is today in the high-speed-rail-progress sense is no accident. An unwavering resolve on the part of a cohesive network of brave and determined souls plus the powers that be is what can be credited; a strategic alliance, voices united, and which, through hard toil and tireless effort, the result is this country being on the cusp of embarking on the journey that is high-speed rail, American style – a pivotal place to be sure.

And, not to be forgotten are the efforts predating ours. A chorus of nations including China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Spain, Taiwan and others built bona fide high-speed train systems, a combined achievement spanning five decades’ time. America, in this regard, has no doubt gotten where it has because of the progress that collectively, these high-speed “railblazers” made.

America’s high-speed rail program has come such a long ways, even if it has taken this long a time and another one-and-a-half-decades-more pass before the first passengers board U.S. high-speed trains. The time element seems inconsequential knowing that domestically, trains traveling in excess of 200 mph will one day roll.

When this happens, rest assured emissions from reduced motor vehicle and airplane travel will be substantially less with America joining the legions of nations across the globe that have climbed aboard the high-speed-train bandwagon having but one more effective way of moving comfortably, conveniently, economically, efficiently (energy efficiently or otherwise), frequently, practically, reliably, safely, and perhaps above all, speedily about.

It’s high time America make (high-speed) tracks, too.

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