NEWS BLOG (WSAU) High speed trains have been in the news a lot lately.
Your resident train buff has a thing or two to say about them.
First, what trains are really good at: short to mid-distance trips between two highly populated cities. The only thing close to high-speed train service in the U.S. is the Acela, operated by Amtrak, that runs between New York and Washington. 125 miles per hour, 3 hours, downtown to downtown. When you factor in airport check-in time, and flights that take off and land far from city-centers, the train is faster. And cheaper. And has been well-received by riders.
Are there other city pairs that make sense for similar high-speed rail service? Yes. Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Detroit, LA-San Diego.
Now, the bad news. Even our fastest trains are slow by European and Asian standards. Theirs travel at 200-miles-per-hour. At those speeds, trains need their own dedicated track--not shared with slower commuter or freight trains -- with gentle curves and super-engineered elevation, and no at-grade railroad crossings.
So why do other nations have it, and we don't? Cost and necessity. Other nations have socialist-level taxes and stronger government power to seize land for projects like this. And other nations don't have domestic airline flights. Flying from Brussels to Berlin or Osaka to Toyko is the equivalent of flying from Madison to Milwaukee. In Europe and Asia, high speed trains have replaced short-hop air travel.
If we could get trains that travel at 200-miles-per-hour rail would be competitive with air for other further-away city pairs. Los Angeles-to-San Francisco, Dallas-t0-Houston and Miami-Orlando-Tampa would be in play. But only at European speeds. And those projects, which are tremendously expensive, received federal funding.
But politics clouds good policy. Florida, Texas and California couldn't get all the high speed rail money. It has to be shared with other states like Wisconsin. But Wisconsin's train projects aren't high speed. Upgrading the Milwaukee to Chicago line to 110-miles-per-hour means removing some railroad crossings, using heavier rail, and buying specially engineered locomotives. The Milwaukee-to-Madison proposal, with top speeds of 79-miles-per-hour, is little more than a spiffed-up commuter run. Federal funding will pay for laying new track, as the route between the two cities hasn't been finalized, and Madison still needs to pick a location for its train station.
And regardless of how these rail projects pan out, they will not pay for themselves even after they're built.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau