With oil prices always in limbo, and raw materials, operating cost, etc. going through the roof long distance travel is becoming increasingly more expensive. Some of you jet setters have really felt the hit. Tickets are astronomical now for air travel and finding flights at decent times is becoming harder and harder. Even travelling by road is becoming costly. Enter the High Speed Rail. Common place in Europe and Asia its a form of transportation that could really help the US out. We fucked up in the early 60s and 70s when we decided to switch from rail travel to building these huge highways and building tons of airports. Well the rail business has seen a big increase in regard to shipping lately but has seen only marginal growth in passengers. The problem is speed, you can't beat the speed that air travel offers.
The only "High Speed Rail" in the US is the Amatrak Acela Express which runs from DC to Baltimore, Philly, NJ, NY City, and Boston. It has a special tilt design that makes the train tilt going around the tight turns found in the US. Its highest speed reached on the run is 150mph, which is quick, however it only runs this speed on certain portions of the route and really averages around 90mph on most of the route. High speed rails require three important things that is not common place in US tracks. The first is power, High Speed Rails run on electricity from overhead wires. Its in place on the Acela Express track and this is easy enough to retrofit. The next is continuous rail. If you've ever walked on RR tracks you notice that they are in sections and there is a space left for expansion/contraction. This produces the common click clack associated with most trains. This also leads to a uncomfortable/dangerous ride when going over 150+mph. Thats solved easily as the tracks in Europe are just welded together. The other issue as mentioned before is turning. Not so much as a safety reason as it is difficult for these trains to fly off the track but more for comfort on the passengers. Imagine going 175mph and taking a hard left hand banking turn. Not good for older passengers. The trains in Europe run around at +150mph. Some in Asia hit 210+mph on certain stretches of the route. This is where we need to be, a constant speed of 150+ would really add another true travel option. These expenses/redesign cost would be negligible. I feel there is a bigger problem if we were to build this.
The problem is our current mass transit system in most cities. In DC, NY City, Boston, Etc. they have good mass transit already established. Taking High Speed Rail else where to other "big cities" that are not capable could prove to be less effective. The traveler would have to ride a train into the city and rent a car or rely on a bus/taxi system. An example would be Phoenix (which they are actually suppose to open up their first phase of their light rail system this year). I still think this is something that should be explored more than what it is being now. I also plan to follow up this post with my thoughts on a light rail (which is currently being constructed in Downtown Norfolk) and maglev technology (which as seen at ODU does not always turn out how it is suppose to) but shows promise over in Japan/China where testing has shown these trains can average well over 300mph.