A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a Tribune article about how the U.S. lags the rest of the industrialized world in rail technology. The Economist this week continues the discussion:
There are reasons, however, to be cautious. First, the cost of any one project far exceeds the money available. California, which has the most advanced plan, would connect the state's biggest cities with trains running at more than 200mph. In November Californians approved $9.95 billion of bonds for the project. On top of this, officials hope to get $12 billion-16 billion from Washington. The plan is expected to cost $40 billion in all. But the stimulus contains only $8 billion for the whole country.
Second, many plans would make trains high-speed only in a relative sense. Proposals that are cheaper than California’s are also much slower. A plan for the Chicago-St Louis line, for example, would speed up trains from 79mph to only 110mph. Multiple road crossings require trains to move more slowly than in Europe. Adding to the problem, most passenger trains run on track owned by freight railways. Congestion makes service less reliable.
I'm actually sad to see $2 gasoline again, because I think a couple years of gas prices around $4 (or even $9, like in Europe) would finally give us a decent rail system. So the next time I fly to London I'll take solace in the Heathrow Express when I get there, and try to forget about the Blue Line that brought me to O'Hare. (Though, in fairness to the CTA, in the past two years they have cut the trip from the Loop to O'Hare from an hour and a quarter down to 40 minutes.)