Fast Rail on the Horizon for U.S.?

Gas prices, airport delays, and traffic jams just might provoke U.S. travelers to embrace high-speed rail. Finally.

It won’t be an easy journey to the 200 mph trains enjoyed in Japan and across Europe; track and safety improvements for already-proposed projects could cost billions. And some argue that federal money should be spent researching alternative fuel and electric cars.

Amtrak’s Acela Express, running from Boston to Washington D.C., is just six years old and the U.S.’s only rail line that tops the international “high speed” standard of 125 mph. But although it hits its maximum speed of 150 mph, it averages a mere 86 mph over its full 456-mile run. But the Acela saw a 20 percent increase in ridership in May when gas prices topped $3 a gallon, and Amtrak is poised for its fifth year of ridership gains.

Other regions are planning their own high-speed lines. The Illinois Department of Transportation’s Rail Division estimates that the 5 1/2 hour trip from Chicago to St. Louis can be cut by 90 minutes, although completing that project will cost more than $400 million. But California’s plan is the most ambitious so far: an electric-powered train running at 220 mph from Los Angeles to San Francisco, cutting a 9-hour drive to a 3 1/2 hour ride.

No mention was made of possible fares.

[via USA Today]