The Potential of High-Speed Rail in USA

Making a scrollytelling website that explores the possibilities of High-Speed Train using data.

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Fast-Tracking the Future: The Potential of High-Speed Rail in the United States

Ever wondered what public travel would look like if the country were a leader in high-speed trains?

High-speed rail is a type of rail transport that operates at speeds significantly higher than traditional rail traffic, typically ranging from 155 mph to over 250 mph. High-speed trains use dedicated tracks or tracks that have been upgraded to accommodate their high speeds. These trains are often built with specialized features such as aerodynamic designs and lightweight materials to reduce drag and increase speed.

High-speed rail is often seen as a more efficient and sustainable alternative to air travel for medium-distance trips. It is also a popular form of transportation for commuting within and between cities. In some cases, high-speed rail lines have been built to connect cities that are too far apart to be easily served by traditional rail, such as the Shinkansen in Japan and the TGV in France.

The development of high-speed rail has had a major impact on the transportation industry. In many countries, high-speed rail has replaced short-haul flights, reducing congestion at airports and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. High-speed rail has also been credited with stimulating economic growth by making it easier for people and goods to travel between cities.

Railways played a significant role in the early history of the US, being the country's first national transport system. The rail network transported economic migrants west as the US expanded and drove the nation's industrialization by allowing the mass transportation of goods. The economic activity created by rail was how financiers such as JP Morgan built their business empires, which had a significant impact on some of the country's biggest economic booms and busts. The rail network also had a political impact, with the more extensive rail system in the north helping the Union defeat the Confederacy in the Civil War. The legacy of the investment in the national rail system continues today, with the US freight rail network supporting an $80bn industry. However, passenger rail travel is much less prevalent in the US than in other large countries.

We can see how little the government has spent on railroads in the past when compared to other modes. The technology and infrastructure required for high speed rail is more complex than other types of transportation, making it a difficult task to implement. Political disagreements between local and federal governments has also slowed down the adoption of high speed rail. Without federal investment to encourage private and state and local investment, high-speed rail will continue to be out of America’s reach.

High-Speed Rail vs

Cars vs Planes

The potential benefits of high-speed rail in the United States are significant. High-speed rail has the potential to improve connectivity between cities, reduce congestion on highways and at airports, and provide a more environmentally friendly form of transportation.

High-speed rail could also boost economic growth and job creation, as it would require the construction of new rail lines and stations, as well as the development of new technologies and services related to rail transportation.

Transportation is responsible for 23% of the total national fossil fuel emissions. Rail only contributes about 2% of transportation emissions, whereas road travel accounts for 73% of emissions and air travel for 11%.

Energy efficiency of rail transportation depends on what powers the rail. While most rail is powered by electricity - which is very efficient - some rail is still powered by diesel which has a much higher rate of emission (International Energy Agency, 2019). One concern around the development of high-speed rail is the emissions produced by the construction of new railroads. These emissions from construction can be offset if the new railroads shift people away from cars and planes.
For example, when a new high- speed train was built between Brussels to London, plane travel on that route dipped by 55% and this change in transportation patterns justified the environmental impacts of construction. High-speed rail is particularly effective in cutting short flights when passengers spend more time navigating through the airport, security, boarding, and more than they do in the air (International Energy Agency, 2019).

High-Speed Rail

Around the World

The High-Speed Rail


High-speed rail is best suited for medium-distance trips. Some examples of possible routes are shown below.

Let us visualize a trip from Portland to SF to understand the benefits of HSR

San Francisco
Los Angeles
New York City
Washington D.C.