NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Not So High-Speed Trains

February 2, 2011

In recent years, Americans' heads have been filled with images of the future -- a future where they will be able to take trains at speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour the same way they have heard citizens of developed European and Asian countries can dart across continents.  Yet this allusion to a supposedly more cosmopolitan future in transport rests on a shaky foundation of programmatic sluggishness, high price tags and political mislabeling, according to

One of the proposed high-speed rail corridors the president mentioned was the seven-state Midwest Chicago Hub Network.   Despite President Obama's optimism, the situation on the ground is quite bleak.

  • Wisconsin and Ohio recently elected governors who campaigned heavily against high-speed rail investment in their states, and the Obama administration pulled stimulus funds for the projectsout of those two states.
  • This move effectively takes Minnesota service off the table as well.

It is also quite misleading to refer to this as high-speed rail, at least in the sense that the Chicago Hub Network somehow compares with Chinese and European high-speed passenger rail, says OpenMarket.

  • In those countries, trains can travel at speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour.
  • In contrast, "high-speed" trains in the Midwest will eventually be able to top out at 110 miles per hourfor very limited stretches.
  • Nor will the Midwest trains ride on electrified railways, which is the only practical method of achieving speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour.

Source:  Marc Scribner, "Obama's State of the Union Address: More of the same on Trains,", January 26, 2011.

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