U.S. High Speed Rail Projects Continue Slowly But Surely

Despite a history composed largely of inaction on the issue, U.S. plans for high-speed rail systems are being rejuvenated following an announcement last week of the new XpressWest bullet train line connecting Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

In partnership with China Railway International, officials confirmed that an initial investment of $100 million had been secured and hope to begin construction in September 2016.

The XpressWest had hit earlier troubles when it was denied federal funding due to “Buy American” provisions, which encourages recipients to use parts manufactured in the U.S. This is a difficult feat when there are no high-speed rail manufacturers in the U.S. The plan will continue by sourcing foreign-manufactured material, which will then be assembled in Nevada.

Following Florida Governor Rick Scott’s denial of federal funds to initiate a high-speed rail project in that state, plans are proceeding with funding from venture capital and real estate. Texas is also pursuing privately funded initiatives.

U.S. plans for a high speed rail system originated in 1965 with the passage of the High Speed Ground Transportation Act, which followed the introduction of Japan’s first bullet train. This led to the nation’s first high-speed rail line, connecting New York City and Washington D.C. with a transit time averaging 3 hours. That line now uses Amtrak’s fleet of Acela trains, which are scheduled to be retired soon for newer versions.

More recent plans have been proposed by Amtrak for a high speed rail (HSR) line between New York City and Washington D.C. costing $117 billion. The plans call for a 220 mph train capable of a transit time of 96 minutes, with an estimated completion by 2030.

As part of the project, existing lines would be upgraded, allowing the current Acela trains to travel at higher speeds. Acelas are able to travel at up to 150 mph, but would eventually be phased out in favor of the 220 mph trains.