High-speed rail

On Tuesday, officials announced the California High Speed Rail Authority will receive $3.1 billion in federal funding to support construction of a 220-mph, two-track electrified high-speed passenger rail line connecting the cities of Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield…

The new federal funding is less than one tenth of the current total projected cost. Initially estimated around $26 billion, costs for the 171-mile Merced to Bakersfield segment now are estimated as high as $35.3 billion…

The current timeline is for train service by 2033. Asked whether the new federal funding will speed up the project, California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Brian Kelly said Friday that “candidly, it keeps us on schedule.”…

California’s high speed rail project got underway in 2008 when voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond measure to help fund construction of an electric bullet train that by 2020 was supposed to speed riders between San Francisco and Los Angeles in under three hours…But with repeated cost overruns and delays, no segment has been completed.



It’s sad that we have so little high speed rail in the US. Acella on the Northeast corridor line could be much faster if Congress comes up with the funds.

A line is expanding in Florida. One is proposed from LA to Las Vegas.

St. Louis to Chicago is increasing speeds but still far below what they have in Europe, Japan, and now China.

We need to do more. If someone can make a profit at it, investors might be willing to fund much more. Until then we require government handouts.

Usually electric with minimal pollution and replacing gas fueled transportation. Fits well with our clean energy goals.


We’re so far behind, after wandering Spain, using their rail system, it’s sickening how behind we are… Another HS rail from Sacramento to LA recently got some more funding…


IIRC, the major cause is lower population density than in Europe, not to mention China and Japan.

       Per sq km
US        35
EU       117
China    153
Japan    333



That is the usual excuse for less passenger rail across the country.

We do have some high density areas. Why are they so slow to improve?

High density areas are more expensive to build. Low density areas are cheaper. Excuses, excuses. Not reasons.


What a waste.

California voters in 2008 approved the sale of $9bn in state bonds, on the understanding that the LA to San Francisco line would be up and running by 2020. That money has all but disappeared.
Who commutes from Fresno to Merced? Nobody. It’ll be an empty $35bil train covered with graffiti.

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Because it wasn’t from LA to SF, it was from LA to Sacramento, the State Capitol, to the largest population center of the Stat, an 8 or 9 hour drive on a good day…

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The proposition the voters approved was between the two largest populations in the state (LA and the Bay Area) and the operation was to be self-sufficient from the fares. That meant they needed lots of riders. This necessitated changing the route to include going through the high desert (Palmdale/Lancaster) for daily commuters rather than following the more direct route of I-5.

Now following this boondoggle for 15 years…


Prop 1A isn’t exactly clear about what was to be completed when…

The point being, they’re gonna build from Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield. Not much is currently planned to go beyond that, and probably most people will not see it in their lifetime. Merced to Fresno? really? what a waste.


The population of the San Francisco Bay area is 14 times Sacramento.

It’s messed up with the gaming, I can’t find the earlier articles I read, but yes, intermediate stops defeat the purpose, any stops defeat the purpose…

One I just read talked of 220 mph runs, what we rode in Spain rabout 160mph as I recall… Tunnels were a problem, popped your ears! So no sleeping… close scenic views at this speeds are blurred… But they sure cover a lot of ground…

Like a local train project here that should have been part of BART, it took 30 years to get past the NIMBYs to make it happen, once running, Covid hit, nearly killed it, but it’s coming back, extending, just need the link from the Borth Bay area over or under the Golden Gate into SF, like it should have been, ages ago…

I think the point of our Calif hi speed rail was the Sacramento to Los Angeles, State Capital to LA area… SF and the South Bay have a lot of rail, but with so many working from home, Covid, they’ve all taken hits…

No, not in my lifetime, too old to move to Spain… But we’ve used trains all over Europe, so much easier to deal with… To pick up a long haul train it’s an hour trip to an Amtrak depot… Or they bus people over… Tedious…

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I’d wager Sacramento punches above its weight in terms of travel. State capital, lots of lobbyists, experts coming in to give testimony, school trips, etc. I’m sure that’s true for nearly every state capitol.


People tend to gloss over this major difference whenever discussing rail travel in USA versus Europe. But it’s important to realize just how big the USA is. For example, LA to SF is a distance roughly like Milan to Paris. I’ve done the Milan to Paris route (on an overnight sleeper) and it was pretty good. But realize that Milan to Paris is pretty much HALF of [western] Europe, while LA to SF is still entirely within a single state!


There are lots of reasons - not excuses - why investing in HSR in the U.S. doesn’t make a ton of sense.

We have lower population density (as noted above). Not only does that mean that many of our metro areas are lower density than most European metro areas, but it also means that they are farther apart from each other. That makes rail connections between them less competitive against air connections. We just have fewer major city-pairs that are 100-300 miles from each other.

Moreover, most of our cities have poorly developed intracity mass transit - which makes intercity rail less appealing on the shorter end of trips. If you need a car in the city you’re travelling to, then rail is a poor option compared to driving. That’s mostly because we’re also a much younger country than other nations - much of our metro area was developed after the widespread adoption of the automobile, so it’s built in order to optimize auto usage rather than train usage.

We also have better things to do with our rail resources. Because our cities are so far apart, we have massive intercity freight rail usage. Which makes sense: compared to all other overland transport, trains are slow and cheap for moving heavy things. So we transport about twice as much cargo by rail as Europeans do, while more of their goods get moved by truck.

Finally, the U.S. has a different governmental structure than virtually any nation on earth. Most countries have a single federal sovereign government that has jurisdiction over all transportation systems - so even though that power is delegated down to regional and local levels, it ultimately rest with the national government. In the U.S., authority over most of our transportation systems is vested with state governments. The federal government could exercise a lot more of a footprint in these types of transportation systems, but because historically they haven’t, setting up and running a national passenger HSR system would involve the federal government pushing a lot of locals out of the picture. So they don’t. Which is why our HSR programs involve the federal government giving money to state or private actors, not building its own rail system (c.f. the interstate highway system).

Once you get outside the Bos-Wash corridor, there’s very little of the U.S. for which passenger rail makes a ton of sense. Which is why we have so little of it.


There is alway an “on the other hand”. Europe is planning to launch high speed rail service in a year or so from Berlin to Strasburg (FR) to Paris, about a 800 mile trip. This has the complication of involving two countries. New high-speed Paris to Berlin train will go via Strasbourg - The Local

The distance from NYC to Chicago is about the same, and the two cities have comparable population densities as their European counterparts and pretty decent mass transit.

So why not a bullet train from the Windy City to Big Apple?


Because we don’t have the capacity to do it.

First off, Germany and France aren’t building a brand-new system between the two capitals from scratch. They’re establishing a new connection between the two, already-existing and well-developed rail systems within each country.

Which is connected to the second point - making such a link requires the coordination of only two governmental entities (France and Germany) - and because they already have systems in place running very close to each other, the actual connection is relatively simple. Whereas a Chicago-NY line would cross at least five states, each of which would have to be part of the process (along with the federal government).

But most importantly, France and Germany have the resources to do this and the U.S. does not. I don’t mean money. I mean transportation officials who have the institutional capacity, experience, and political heft within their governments to actually build and run this kind of system and make it work. Because the U.S. isn’t generally suited to passenger rail, we don’t have those kinds of deep resources here. For a nice dissection of the manifold reasons why that is, I would recommend Alon Levy’s Pedestrian Observations blog - and happily enough, the most recent post today is a dissection of many of the problems we face in implementing HSR. Note that Levy is a passionate advocate for HSR and firmly believes that these problems are fixable in the U.S., which I do not - but he gives a scathing critique in many of his posts about how bad U.S. transit agencies and regulators are.


I don’t disagree. Just wanted to point out that the primary obstacles against high speed rail in the USA are political and bureaucratic. There are numerous American locations where the physical parameters are conducive to economically viable high speed rail. We just lack the political and bureaucratic “infrastructure” for such a project.

First off, Germany and France aren’t building a brand-new system between the two capitals from scratch . They’re establishing a new connection between the two, already-existing and well-developed rail systems within each country.

You mean like Amtrak?

They’re not unrelated. We don’t have political and bureaucratic “infrastructure” for to build robust passenger rail systems between city-pairs in the “sweet spot” of passenger rail (100-300 miles) because they’re not economically viable against auto transport. And because we don’t have the infrastructure for those systems, we don’t have the capacity to build national networks.

No - Amtrak is not a “well-developed” passenger rail system in the U.S. Outside of the Bos-Wash service corridor, it’s a pale shadow of the most meagre systems in other countries.

If there were already a robust and vibrant network of high-speed passenger rail that included a connection between New York and Pittsburgh, and a similarly robust and vibrant network of high-speed passenger rail between Chicago and Cleveland, then it would be a manageable project to connect them to allow direct routes from New York to Chicago. But Amtrak has nothing like that.

Most people will live past 2033 and see it in operations!

I really don’t understand all the debate about the need for high speed rail. According to The Onion, Obama solved this whole problem back in 2010.