Many of you reading are familiar with the effort in America to get the very first high-speed train endeavor built and then placed into service. There are so many advantages to constructing and using high-speed rail, not the least of which is helping clear the air, literally! But, for all of the good they’re capable of delivering and do deliver elsewhere where they’re in operation, in this country, they’re an undervalued resource. Most fortunately, the tide is turning in that regard.
It’s coming up on 15 years since the Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century (California’s then Proposition 1A) passed at the polls on Nov. 4, 2008. Now it’s full steam ahead. This very point and more is what is being explored in today’s contribution: which presents information on the project’s past, on important events that paved the way to its creation, and on how it has the potential to be a catalyst or driving force for a call for similar such systems to be built and operated elsewhere on home turf. That’s what is being delivered today.
Deliberate was America’s foray into high-speed railroading. Make no mistake. Several factors all seemed to coalesce if not coincide in precipitating that action.
Shortly after World War II, the automobile, then already growing in popularity, was to the passenger train what the high-speed train is to the regional, over-land air carrier: the competition. At that time and extending all the way to the late ‘70s, comparatively, the domestic railroad industry had the cards stacked against it; as private enterprise, it basically had to support itself plus, through its paid taxes, this money was used in those cities so served by the railroad interest to help fund infrastructure projects like airports, highways, schools and more. This gave the airline and trucking industries a financial leg up. And, at least up until the late 1960s anyway, on America’s railroads, for those that had them, it was not like they could just wish their at-the-time money-losing passenger-train operations away. An impossibility due to the regulatory structure and requirements that were in effect at the time. It wasn’t until the creation of Amtrak in 1971 that the freight railroads were finally able to put to the side and behind this one facet that had been so characteristic of and so identified with the institution that American railroading is and has been for so long.
Being such was the case, the railroads affected tried to make the best of the deficit situation. In adding injury to insult, there was a real danger that this American institution might not survive at all. But that’s a whole other story.
At any rate, at the behest of interested railroad top-brass, hot-shot marketing teams went to work coming up with quite ambitious and imaginative rebranding campaigns. Out of that effort was fashioned the streamliner era from which the hallmarks of speed “and” style had emerged.
Then 20 years after the fact the ghosts of that fabled past reappeared. Only this time it would be a new-to-America passenger-train concept that captured onlookers imaginations. That concept: True high-speed railroading.
Predecessor names like the 20th Century Limited (New York Central) and the Burlington Zephyr (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) to name only two – train names that connoted speed and capability – would be traded, exchanged for maybe even the catchier-sounding monikers of Acela and Avelia (both Amtrak) with presumably others to follow in their footsteps.
High-speed rail service, as it turns out, in no way remained an enterprise that only foreign interests could access and utilize. The capability, technology, platform by the year 2000, arrived on American shores. That’s when Amtrak’s Acela trains, geared for 150 mph running on the company owned 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor property connecting Boston and the District of Columbia even if only on a short section of NEC track, entered service. On the opposite coast, meanwhile, a scant four years earlier on February 2nd, the California Intercity High Speed Rail Commission in a public hearing held at a thoroughly modern-looking Fresno City Hall, announced that a route roughly paralleling State Route 99 through the Central Valley, had been designated to serve as the initial operating segment which would, when up and running, host the country’s presumed first high-speed trains. People could argue no more of American high-speed rail not being a thing.
Marking the construction start, meanwhile, was the formal and official groundbreaking held on Jan. 6, 2015 which took place on a nondescript parcel of land located in west-central Fresno. When the California bullet-train building apparatus finally got underway, this occurred on Jun. 16, 2015.
So, here it is more than eight years later and California high-speed-rail, San Joaquin Valley-, Bay Area- and Southland-based construction activity advances and in an earnest way. Work is either in process or has already been completed at more than 30 separate sites located up and down the San Joaquin Valley.
Looking ahead past 2030 and the unveiling of Valley-based HSR service connecting Bakersfield and Merced on 171 miles of right-of-way, sites are set on furthering statewide high-speed-train service south to Burbank, Los Angeles/Anaheim and Palmdale and northwest to Gilroy, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Jose but certainly not in that order. Sacramento and San Diego, if all goes according to plan, will eventually be connected providing for a total of 800 miles of state territory served. In case you don’t already know, trains will hit a top speed of 220 mph.
Today, all throughout this great land, HSR is making tracks either with projects being proposed or being planned. This is exciting news.
And the exciting news doesn’t stop there. Under consideration and evaluation are others. These include California-Nevada’s Brightline West, the Chicago Hub Network, the Empire and the Keystone, those in Florida, the Gulf Coast, Northern New England, Pacific Northwest, South Central and Southeast regions.
Yes, American high-speed rail is well on its way! And for the endeavor it’s a brand new day!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this special report and update.
Above and corresponding, connected home-page-featured images: Federal Railroad Administration
Update: Fri., Oct. 6, 2023 at 4:27 a.m. PDT.
⁃ Alan Kandel