WASHINGTON — On a 30-mile stretch of railroad between Westerly and Cranston, R.I., Amtrak’s 150-mile-per-hour Acela hits its top speed — for five or 10 minutes. On the crowded New York to Washington corridor, the Acela averages only 80 m.p.h., and plans to bring it up to Japanese bullet-train speeds will take $150 billion and 26 years, if it ever happens.
The Obama administration has spent nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, but the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China, where trains on average top 220 m.p.h. Although Republican opposition and community protests have slowed the projects here, transportation policy experts and members of both parties also blame missteps by the Obama administration — which in July asked Congress for nearly $10 billion more for high-speed rail — for the failures.
Instead of putting the $11 billion directly into high-speed rail projects, they say, the administration made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service, which will allow trains to go no faster than 110 m.p.h. None of the money originally went to service in the Northeast corridor, the most likely place for high-speed rail. Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, in the meantime canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.
Another problem is that Amtrak’s funding is tied to annual appropriations from Congress, leaving it without a long-term source of money. “I do what I can do,” said Joseph Boardman, Amtrak’s president. “But I don’t sit back and wait for $15 billion to rebuild the Northeast Corridor.” For now, Amtrak is rebuilding a stretch of track in central New Jersey that will permit 160-mile-an-hour travel for 23 miles.
High speed rail doesn't make sense for most of the US; and the predicted cost of the NYC-DC line doesn't sound particularly worthwhile.