Why The US Has No High-Speed Rail

Why The US Has No High-Speed Rail


China has the fastest and largest
high-speed rail network in the world. The country has more than 19,000
miles of high-speed rail, the vast majority of which was built
in the last decade. Japan’s bullet trains can reach speeds
of almost 200 miles per hour. And date back to the 1960s. They’ve become a staple for domestic travel
and have moved more than 9 billion people without a
single passenger casualty. France began service of the high-speed TGV
train in 1981 and the rest of Europe quickly followed. And high-speed rail is quickly expanding all
over the world in places like India, Saudi Arabia, Russia
Iran and Morocco. And then there’s the U.S. The U.S. used to be one of the world’s global
leaders in rail but after World War II there was a massive shift. If you look at the United States prior
to 1945, we had a very extensive rail system everywhere. It all was working great except a number
of companies in the auto and oil industries decided that for them to
have a prosperous future they really needed to basically help phase out all the
rail and get us all into cars. The inflexible rails permanently embedded
in cobblestones were paved over to provide smooth, comfortable transportation
via diesel motor coach. General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil
and a few other companies that got together and they were able to
buy up all the nation’s streetcar systems and then quickly start
phasing out service and literally dismantling all the systems over
about a 10-year span. In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower
signed a bill to create the National Interstate System. It allocated about $25 billion dollars
to build 41,000 miles of highways. The federal government paid for 90% of
that, the states covered the final 10 and rail fell by the wayside. Can’t you see that this highway means a
whole new way of life for the children? And a way of life that we have
a chance to help plan and, and to build. We dedicated a huge amount of
dollars to building automobile infrastructure in the middle of the 20th century and
we’re still kind of attached to that model of development. We went from a rail-served country to
a auto-dependent nation by the 1960s. We’ve become a car culture and it’s
hard to break out of that cycle. Not to mention the fact that in
our political system we have very powerful oil lobbies, car manufacturing lobbies,
aviation lobbies, all the entities that the high-speed rail would
have to compete with. This is the American dream
of freedom on wheels. We average some 850 cars per
thousand inhabitants in the U.S., in China it’s only 250. And we’ve never gone back. But according to some this
country’s transportation ecosystem is reaching a tipping point. When you look at what’s happening
with the corridor development, again states across the U.S. who are recognizing they are running out
of space to expand their highways or interstates. There are limits at airports, there
is aviation congestion, so what are the options? A better rail system is one
and could come with significant benefits. It’s largely an environmental good to
switch from air traffic and car traffic to electrified
high-speed rail. That’s a much lower
emission way of traveling. When the high-speed rail between Madrid
and Barcelona in Spain came into operation, I mean air travel just
plummeted between those cities and everyone switched over to high-speed
rail which was very convenient. People were happier. They weren’t forced to switch, they did
it because it was a nicer option to take high-speed rail. There’s a sort of a rule of thumb
for trips that are under three or four hours in trip length from city to city,
those usually end up with about 80 or 90 percent of the
travel market from aviation. Where rail exists and it’s convenient
and high-speed, it’s very popular. America I think is waking up to this
idea that rail is a good investment for transportation infrastructure. One survey showed 63% of Americans would
use high-speed rail if it was available to them. Younger people want it even more. Right now the main passenger
rail option in the U.S. is Amtrak. It’s operated as a for-profit company
but the federal government is its majority stakeholder. Train systems reaching top speeds of over
110 to 150 miles per hour are generally considered high-speed and only one
of Amtrak’s lines could be considered as such. That’s its Acela line in the
Northeast Corridor running between D.C., New York and Boston. One of the challenges we face is that
the Northeast Corridor has a lot of curvature, a lot of geometry. We really operate Acela Express on an
alignment that in some places was designed back in the nineteen hundreds and
so it really was never designed for high-speed rail. And while the Acela line can reach up
to 150 miles per hour, it only does so for 34 miles of its 457 mile span. Its average speed between New York and
Boston is about 65 miles per hour, which is in stark contrast to
China’s dedicated high-speed rail system which regularly travels at over
200 miles per hour. But some people are
trying to fix that. In 2008 California voted
yes on high-speed rail. Now, a decade later, construction is underway
in the Central Valley of the state. And right now it is the
only truly high-speed rail system under construction in the U.S. Ultimately high-speed rail is a 520
mile project that links San Francisco to Los Angeles and
Anaheim, that’s phase one. And it’s a project that’s
being built in building blocks. So the one behind me is the
largest building block that we’re starting with, this 119 mile segment. This segment will run
from Bakersfield to Merced. Eventually the plan is to build a
line from San Francisco to Anaheim, just south of L.A. But as it stands the state is almost
$50 billion short of what it needs to actually do that. The current project as planned would
cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight
and not enough transparency. We do have the capacity to complete
a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield. After Gavin Newsom made that speech
President Trump threatened to pull federal funding for the project. We will continue to
seek other funding. We hope the federal government will
resume funding the, contributing new funds to the project. I think in the future, as
the federal government has funded major construction of infrastructure over time
they’ll again direct money to high-speed rail because in fact it’s
not just California but other states are also interested in
high-speed rail systems. To complete the entire line as planned,
the official estimate is now over $77 billion and it’s unclear where
the money will come from. So why is it so expensive? Part of the problem in California, the
big price tag is getting through the Tehachapi, very expensive tunneling, or over
the Pacheco Pass to get into San Jose from the Central Valley. You know, Eastern China, the flatlands
of Japan where they’ve built the Shinkansen, all of those are settings
where they have, didn’t incur the very high expense of boring and tunneling
that we face so the costs are different. And a lot of the money is
spent before construction can even begin. Just in this little segment here
alone we’re dealing with the private property owner, we’re dealing with a
rail company, we’re dealing with the state agency and so
just the whole coordination. Then we’re dealing with a utility
company, just in this very small section; we had to relocate two miles
of freeway and that was roughly $150 million per mile. So there’s a lot of moving pieces
to, you know, anywhere we start constructing. China is the place
that many folks compare. They have like 29,000 kilometers of high-speed
rail and 20 years ago they had none. So how have they been able
to do it so quickly? And part of it is that the state
owns the land, they don’t have private property rights like we
have in the U.S. You don’t have the regulations we have
in terms of labor laws and environmental regulations that
add to cost. It also delays the projects. For some reason and I’ve never really
quite seen an adequate explanation as to why costs to build transit or
many big infrastructure projects are just dramatically higher than in other parts
of the world, including in other advanced countries. But the bottom line is we’re really
bad at just building things cheaply and quickly in the U.S. in general. So it’s not just rail infrastructure
that is expensive, all transportation infrastructure is. Just the physical investment in the freeway usually
will be 5 to 8 to 10 million per mile but if you add
seismic issues and land acquisition and utilities and environmental mitigation and
remediation of soils and factors like that it can become as high
as 100 or 200 million a mile. The numbers for high-speed rail can vary
anywhere from 20 to 80 million per mile. The big reason why America is behind
on high-speed rail is primarily money. We don’t commit the dollars needed to
build these systems, it’s really as simple as that. And it’s largely a political issue. We don’t have political leaders who
really want to dedicate the dollars needed. There’s a lot of forces in America
that really don’t want to see rail become our major mode of transportation
especially because it will affect passenger numbers on airplanes, it’ll
affect the use of autos. So you have the politics, the
message shaping and then the straight advertising and all three of those
coordinate and work together to keep America kind of focused on cars
and not focused on rail. Some of the earliest support for
rail came from the Nixon administration. Some of the original capital subsidies
and operating subsidies for urban transit came from the Republican party, so
I think it’s only more recently that maybe this has shifted that more
liberal leaning folks who care about climate and a whole host of urban
issues have really argued for investing very heavily in rail. If you had Democratic leadership on the
Senate and a different president or potentially some leverage for a president to
sign a new budget bill with some dollars for high-speed rail,
that could override those objections from Republicans in Congress. But I think it’s mostly ideological. They’re big on highways. They’re big on things
like toll roads. They just, they don’t want the government
spending dollars on this kind of project and they see it as
something those socialist European countries do but not something that should be
done in, you know, car-loving America. In my judgment, it would take a
very strong federal commitment, almost sort of a post-Second World War interstate
highway kind of large scale national commitment. This is why some high-speed rail
projects are trying to avoid public funding altogether. One company, Texas Central, plans to build
a bullet train from Houston to Dallas without using a
dime of taxpayer money. We’re taking what is laborious, unreliable
four-hour drive if you’re lucky and turning that into a
reliable, safe 90 minutes. And when you look at that as a
business plan being driven by data, this is the right place to build the first
high-speed train in the United States. The Texas project is backed by investors
motivated to make a profit and will use proven
Japanese rail technology. Texas Central’s goal is to
complete the project by 2025. Another private company is even further
along with its rail system, in Florida. It’s expanding its higher-speed
train from Miami to Orlando. Orlando’s the most heavily visited
City the United States. Miami is the most heavily visit
international city in the United States. It’s too far to drive, it’s too short
to fly, we had the rail link and that was really the
genesis of the project. Wes Edens has invested heavily in Florida’s
rail project which used to be called Brightline. Brightline recently rebranded to Virgin
Trains as the company partnered with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. The team at Brightline, which is now
called Virgin Trains, has proven that it can work. The people actually want to get out of
their cars and they’d love to be on trains. In order to reach profitability, the
company sacrificed speed to save money. If you want to really go
high-speed you have to grade separate. So you basically have to build a bridge
for 250 miles that you then put a train on. That sounds hard, and it sounds expensive
and it’s both of those things. So a huge difference in cost, a huge
difference in time to build and not that much of a reduction in service. And now tech companies are
getting involved with infrastructure projects. In the Pacific Northwest a high-speed
rail plan is underway to connect Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Microsoft contributed $300,000 towards
research for the project. Our number one priority from Microsoft as
well it to really see and pursue this high-speed rail effort happen. If you look around the United States
and where all of the Fortune 500 companies are located they all are
in a similar situation to Microsoft. The housing is unaffordable,
traffic congestion is epic. It’s too hard to get
anywhere and to get employees. So high-speed rail can solve this
same exact problem in numerous regions around the United States. So is the private sector the answer
to bringing high-speed rail to the U.S.? If the private sector wants to invest
in transportation and as long as it’s not impinging on the public taxpayers I
don’t see a problem with private sector moving forward. And I think there is some truth that
the private sector is gonna have much more of an incentive to hurry up
on the construction and get things done more quickly, more cheaply. That said, the private sector still has
to operate with the oversight and regulatory responsibilities of
the public sector. So for example environmental review doesn’t
go away just because it’s a private sector project. Labor standards don’t go away. The difference is that they don’t have to
keep trying to sell a project to the public for a vote to
raise taxes or sell bonds. Some people remain optimistic
that the U.S. can catch up to the rest of the
world and have a robust, high-speed rail system. We’re building that right
now behind us. This 119 mile segment that we want
to expand with the money we already have to 170 miles, it’s going to serve
a population of 3 million people in the Central Valley. So it’s, not only do I
believe, but it’s under construction. A lot of activity is now taking
shape, state rail authorities have been shaped in four or five states, so
they’re actually taking these on now as a legitimate project
and moving forward. I think the future is very bright
for train travel in the United States. There’s broad consensus with our policy
leaders in industry that it’s time to move an infrastructure bill and
that will certainly help kickstart U.S. rail. Others are much less confident. I wish I were
a little more optimistic. It’s just very difficult to
make the economics work here. No one has embraced it as a
strong part of their political platform. There’s just too many other
tough pressing problems we’re facing. I don’t see us catching up
to where the world is. It would take such a massive infusion
of dollars for that to happen in California and probably waving a
number of environmental requirements and some other government regulations that
hinder the quick deployment of these projects in favor
of other values. My own instincts are that it’s going
to be decades and decades of decades before you’ll be able to go a
one-seat trip from San Diego to Sacramento or San Francisco. It’d be nice if there was just
one simple answer, it’s this litany of factors that collectively add up that make this
so hard to pull off in the United States.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. Americans probably don't want to have to go through TSA just to ride a train. Might as well drive because of the horrible lines.

  2. Automobiles are liberty for the individual. Rail networks are overpriced terrorist targets and a leftist dream of having everybody going the same direction. That should not be the American dream.

  3. We built a railway from coast to coast in the cowboy days. People road the train from East to West other countries are building rail infrastructure that benefits everyone. Here in the US we're so concerned with what country to invade next on false pretenses! High speed trains would benefit an put less cars on the road but greedy lobbyists don't want this and the American people suffer because of it!

  4. Let the Chinese come in and build it,I bet the can do it for half the amount,but no the lobists will never allowed it.

  5. US government needs to invest in Maglev trains as Bullet trains will be a slower option.
    Aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed martin need to focus more towards Super sonic aircraft & Space exploration.
    Oil companies need to gradually evolve towards Battery technologies & Renewable energy.

  6. The US being unable to move away from cars is plainly untrue as in Europe and Japan the car is still dominant yet also have the trains to compliment them.

  7. Boring Flat china geographic? Hell they have high speed rail to the place consider as the roof of the earth and some place are all mountains! It's just all about the profitability! Why the private enterprise will care about the social benefit or those who only govern for few years?

  8. All the excuses and no one point out the elephant in the room. Come on people, the ultimate answer to why can't America have high speed railway is simple and clean: The trains don't burn fossil fuels! That's why oil money controlled congress doesn't want it to happen.

  9. if California spent as much on high speed rail as they do supporting illegal aliens and corrupt politicians they would be whistling along at 250 mph today LMAO   PRESIDENT TRUMP 2020!

  10. I just want highways with no speed limits here. If I wanna go 150 miles per hour I should be able to without risking prison. But, most in America don’t have the brain cells to handle limitless roads

  11. Dude japan,taiwan are small countries where trains make more sense then airplanes america is like a massive country where cars make sense for small distances and airplanes for longer distances. Simple

  12. This is embarrassing, it all boils down to money. I don't mean a lack of money. Big oil is flexing their muscle to slow down any progress anyone tries make in improving our infrastructure without the use of petroleum. Why does everyone in charge seem to be opposed to us reaching our full potential as a world leader? Those construction costs are artificially inflated just like healthcare costs in this country. We could make things happen a lot faster if politicians worried more about future generations than they do with lining their own pockets. If we as a society focused more on being happy and less on being rich; imagine what we could accomplish on this planet.

  13. But we smoke less here in the U.S. compared to Europe so at least that's one good thing. If we paid less for military and let other wealthy countries like Germany protect themselves instead of putting our huge bases there, we would have more money for rail and health care too. I think for many years we were just too scared to let Germany and Japan re-militarize but it is probably time.

  14. $77,Billion, that is bull, their own financial engineers told the commission that it will be in excess of $400,Billion, but they refuse to tell the public the truth. It's on record but they won't show it to anyone.

  15. Your legislature at work. Jimmy Carter – while still in office – said that we need a national energy policy…. still don't have one.

  16. I don't care if China has 1000 mph train, I love 55mph car. I wish I could afford a Tesla though, US government should push for electric cars

  17. Most public transportation projects actually lose money in the US, thats why theyre not done very often. In certain urban areas like NYC, they do okay. Theres simply not enough demand to jsutify the costs. Look at Californias abandoned high speed rail project, and how much taxpayer money was wasted on this? Here, people like to drive and fly.

  18. US can't build because of corruption. Just look up California High Speed Rail it cost $200 Million per mile to build. Corruption on steroids
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1elBgwBu2g

  19. to contain china imperialist america orcheshrated the dumbest strategy ie do the opposite of what china does…. curtail rail network…. LOL

  20. But all I hear in the video is: everything is easy for China and difficult for the US. Surprise! China has environmental regulations, labor laws, loans that need to pay back, too. China has the worlds most complicated geographical structures. When there is no money no tech no experience, China says “yes we can” and starts to find ways. The us has everything but says “no we can’t “ and starts to find excuses. Don’t you know the saying” there is a will there is a way”. If you can’t find a way, maybe it’s just you don’t have the guts.

  21. The reality is we Americans love regulation, so therefore we have endless interests that can end high speed rail for any number of regulations. Also, any one or multiple cities can block construction for these projects. I don't see this happening on any significant scale, or near any metro areas in the United States.

  22. im happy we did not jump into high speed rail. because of hyper loop. and we dont need to use hyper loop for people .just from produce and food products and any thing yjay can fit in it. personal transportation is going to be around. for a long time.

  23. tunnel boring machines for hyper loop are the way to go. far less costly look the rail roads were funded and given to the rich and corps. tax dollars . the corp skim of corps greed is holding back the progress for all of us. but the 1% and corps sucking everyone else dry.

  24. New York could have expanded the rail system but it did not want to put it on the new tappan see bridge . And it’s controlled by Democrats. So there goes part of this videos story line

  25. The same reason that streetcars were phased out…the petrochemical industry.
    There, saved you sixteen minutes and change… 😉

  26. Only thing I hear is we can’t because of blah BS blah BS money millions BS where are we going to get the money blah blah

  27. AMTRAK. a highly subsidized government institution. High speed rail in California was a sham. Billions of dollars wasted, swaths of agricultural land taken out of production, businesses removed to make room for the rail system, bridges replaced with new ones to accommodate the high speed rail and the list goes on. A majority of Californians woke up to the extreme expense of high speed rail yet government kept shoving HSR down our throats. Finally the Feds pulled their funding and everything was stopped. Thank goodness. Amtrak is a money loser.

  28. Trash liberals enriching themselves with these federal funds. No thank you. Politicians dont touch the trains as they drive their 50 thousand dollar car.. They have no space, crazy, rude, violent mentally ill people ride them, making them dangerous. Privatise it and if it works then fine. I like my privacy in my vehicle.

  29. 9/10 times the MBTA has a delay. Especially the commuter rails! Within the last week there has been a delay every single day because of signal failure, traffic with other trains and general train problems. Fix what we already have!

  30. America, Tthe war-loving country. They make bombs with all the money they don't have. And they say it will make the world much safer. Got it!

  31. really why not..LA to DC 3 days? that too in cramped seat… but then push is coming to shove for last 10 years and I will not give my final kick where it is going to put this obsessed blocker in grave. of course FEDeral banks paid for all that sprucing up and still does… that is what struggling with problems Nations have to do. they just mint /print money only to back few.

  32. I really want a project for Vancouver to seattle bullet train. Going through mt. Vernon & Bellingham. I would be in seattle to Vancouver in less than one hour. If the train goes 200mph.

  33. Lets not forget LBJ in the sixties, he taxed the living sh!t out of rail lines forcing transportation of goods over to trucking companies. Not the best for green living. Just adds to pollution and money into big oil pockets. Bring rail back.

  34. we do love our cars and we should appreciate the luxury of being able to own one without having to win the lottery

  35. I live in the South-West of France. My girlfriend travels every so often to go to see her family in Belgium. An 850 Km trip, per TGV. She is 5 hours underway and it costs her about 45 (forty-five) Euro single trip. 90 Euro back and forth. Beat that, USA.

  36. 100年前,美國需要中國人幫他們造鐵路。
    100年後,美國還是需要中國人幫他們造鐵路。😅😅😅

  37. Easy solution for budget. We are in peacetime so we don't need military bases in every country in the world. President Trump submitted his request to Congress for $639 billion in military spending

  38. It’s pretty simple the US makes all its money from AirLine travel and has invested trillions into Air infrastructure. High speed trains would put a large dent into that industry. Plus it would require a complete infrastructure redevelopment, along with acquiring a huge amount of property an dispersal of people and homes.

  39. There’s a going conspiracy that some of the California Wildfires have been set up strategically. Placed in former hard to attain real estate areas throughout California to build the future high speed rail system.

  40. Because Americans love their cars, trucks and vans and it's easier to build an airport than rail beds – Americans fly from one end of the country to the other

  41. Since you mentioned Florida you should've added how Obama gave us billions for a statewide connected Rail system but then Governor (now Senator lol) Rick Scott denied that "handout" as he called it… Florida sucks

  42. It's all about money. Not only are oil, auto, and aviation companies going to continue to push back and be successful at it. US currently just does not have the money to push this kind of budget through. It's really a wonder in the US how everyone, from federal and state government down to the individual people are so saddled with debt, yet America is so much behind in infrastructure compare to some of the other developed nations now. It's a good time to question if capitalism is still good at all, and why the money are all flowing to the wrong people and places.

  43. 'Eastern China, flatlands of japan, where they built the shinkansen….didn't incur the very high expense of boring and tunneling that we(CA) face '???? You got be kidding? Check this list:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest_railway_tunnels, guess who dominate the list?

  44. cuz every liberal will huff 😤 and puff 😤 complain about in some kind of a way thats why

    since there all takin over 🇺🇸 real true facts of real life folks

    until (us REAL 🇺🇸s) steps it up and put em all on here 👉🏼⚰️ 👍🏼 where they all belong

  45. It's funny that you are all debuting on a topic that so well explained 50 years ago. Ever heard the book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"? GM, Ford, and those oil companies secured their success years ago, by destroying rail system in USA forever.
    And no, it's no an economic problem at all, it's politic. Remember how did you build the high way system 50 years ago, why money was not a problem at that time? Fed Gov paid for it, your state paid only 10%. Chine built it's high speed rail because the gov paid for it, USA can't since your gov don't want to pay for it. That's it…straight and simple.

  46. Because Communist China was control of the US. They already own Califonia and burning peoples homes down or turning off thier power to force them out. Anyone who allows China to build a HSR here should be shot for treason…Communist pigs we are on to you.

  47. Awesome video! But, we have high speed rail in South Florida via the BrightLine! It currently runs West Palm Beach, Fort. Lauderdale, and Miami with upcoming expansions to Orlando. It is the first of it's kind in America and has become really important down here in the last year; wish you guys would've mentioned it because it is really influential in our economy and our laws!

  48. Even Africa is building passenger train service. North America is the only place where its still deteriorating. Private greed still rules public interest, IMHO.

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