There is no totally high-speed train line in the United States, and none is being developed except in California. But there are several lines that operate at higher speeds than traditional trains.
The San Diego Trolley is a light rail system that operates in the southern part of the city on two lines with nine stops between downtown and the Mexican border. The system has been called America's first modern mass transit system and is known for its trolleys, which can carry up to 1,200 people at a time. The system began service in 1996 and connects people with their jobs, school, friends, and entertainment options throughout the city.
The California High Speed Rail Authority was created in 1999 to develop a high-speed railway network across California. The authority's plan includes a 220-mile long high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles that would travel at up to 180 miles per hour. The project has encountered many obstacles but is still seeking funding.
Other high-speed trains operate in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, and Washington, D.C. These trains use magnetic levitation technology instead of wheels to lift themselves off the ground and float above the track. They can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour and cover distances in minutes rather than hours.
The United States lacks dedicated high-speed rail lines like those found in Japan, China, France, Germany, and other European countries. Because most US lines lack automatic train stop or cab signals, which are needed by law for trains traveling faster than 80 MPH, 79 MPH is the speed limit throughout much of the nation.
In addition, US railways were built as a business under private ownership, not by governments like their European counterparts. This means that they are not required to make a profit, so companies will tend to avoid spending money on maintenance if they can get away with it.
Finally, there is no federal funding program for new rail construction like there is in Europe, where funds come from a variety of sources including local governments, corporations, investors, and even the EU. By contrast, US states and territories must raise funds through taxes or bond issues to pay for transportation projects, so they usually only spend what is necessary to maintain existing systems and build small additions here and there.
This all adds up to some pretty slow trains in America. The fastest route between New York City and Washington, DC takes 11 hours 30 minutes to travel 1,609 miles - that's more than five hours per 100 miles! By comparison, French trains run on sleek new tracks built with security in mind and reach speeds of 250 MPH, while German trains go up to 180 MPH and cover the same distance in just over four hours.
There are no such corridors in the United States. High-speed rail is an outmoded technology since it necessitates costly and dedicated infrastructure that serves no use other than to transport passengers who might travel more affordably by car or air. In fact, Japan has abandoned almost all of its existing lines because they are too expensive to maintain.
The lack of interest in high-speed rail among American taxpayers means that it cannot be implemented at a reasonable cost. The "train wreck" that was California's Carmack Roadster Showcase demonstrates that even modern trains can suffer accidents due to their innovative design.
Furthermore, there are safety concerns with high-speed rail. The possibility of terror attacks using hidden bombs on trains makes them unsuitable for long trips across open fields. Also, negative effects from using heavy metals in train motors require them to be disposed of properly or else they could lead to toxic contamination in local water sources. Finally, high-speed trains are loud and uncomfortable, which would not be acceptable in most parts of America where people want to enjoy the beauty around them while listening to music or talking on the phone.
High-speed rail is prohibitively expensive for any country's transportation system. The cost of constructing a line between San Francisco and Los Angeles has been estimated at $68 billion. This does not include the cost of operating the train or paying its staff.
There is now just one high-speed rail line in the United States, which is arguably in California. Amtrak's Acela Express, which runs across the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, DC, has a top speed of 165 miles per hour but often travels at 70 miles per hour between those cities. The line uses state funds to pay for part of its construction cost and receives federal money to cover the rest.
Amtrak was created by Congress in 1971 to run intercity trains across the country. It operates under its own government agency, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (NRPC). Most states share revenue from Amtrak's ticket sales with their local railroad companies; in return, these companies help maintain the tracks and bridges, and some receive an annual payment from Amtrak instead.
When it first started operating, Amtrak used old equipment acquired from bankrupt carriers. It later bought new cars from Japan and Europe that were designed for high speeds but could not reach them because the American rail system was not capable of supporting such traffic. In 2001, Amtrak began building its own high-speed train line in California, using parts of the former San Diego–Los Angeles Railroad. This line, called the Acelarail San Francisco to Los Angeles, opens in 2009. Other projects are planned or being considered for other states including Texas, Illinois, and Florida.
They do, indeed. While "bullet trains" may and do use conventional railway lines to perform at their best and minimize disturbances caused by slower traffic, there are a growing number of specialized high-speed lines. These lines use specially designed track frames with embedded magnets to hold the railcar onto the track. The first of these lines opened in 2008 between Tokyo and Yokohama.
There are also plans to build a line that would connect Beijing and Shanghai. The project is still in its planning stages but if it were to become a reality, it would be the first high-speed rail line in China. The projected speed would be 350 km/h (217 mph).
In North America, only the California High Speed Rail Project has been approved so far. Construction on this line which would run from San Francisco to Los Angeles at speeds up to 220 miles per hour is scheduled to begin in 2018. A similar project called "The Hiawatha Line" which would run from Minneapolis to Chicago with stops in Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin has not yet received approval from Congress but already has support from several states along the route.
In Europe, France has one high-speed line known as the "Train à Grande Vitesse" or "TGV".