New High-Speed Rail Plan for the US

Transport infrastructure has defined the shape of almost every city in recent years. But there is also a wider scale in terms of territorial connectivity that has shaped  regions, not just in its form but also in their economies. Typical examples are the high speed rail networks in France and Japan. And it the US? The opposite: a collapsed -and slow- airport system.

But today US President announced his High-Speed Rail Plan, included on his stimulus plan with a budget of $8 billion for the next two years, and $1 billion per year over the next five years. This will be focused on 9 new corridors, and to improve the existing line between Washington and Boston:

  • a northern New England line
  • an Empire line running east to west in New York State
  • a Keystone corridor running laterally through Pennsylvania
  • a southeast network connecting the District of Columbia to Florida and the Gulf Coast
  • a Gulf Coast line extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama
  • a corridor in central and southern Florida
  • a Texas-to-Oklahoma line
  • a corridor in the Pacific Northwest.
  • a California corridor where voters have already approved a line that will allow travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two and a half hours (versus 1:45 plus the security checks and waiting time by airplane)

This also reminds me of the recent Union Station 2020 competition “Crossroads for the High-Speed Rail City”, envisioning Chicago´s Union Station as a territorial high-speed rail hub. You can see the results here.

“ Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city.  No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes.   Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.  Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.

In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations.  In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined.  China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now.  And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next:  a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour.  So it’s being done; it’s just not being done here.

- Barack Obama

This plan will surely help the AEC industry by generating several jobs, same as other parts of the stimulus package. The question is, how we (the architects) can play a more active role when it comes to infrastructure? And not just in terms of designing train stations or bus stops, but embracing a wide array of buildings/structures that are the visible face of our cities (roads, bridges, ports, power plants), and also a new business opportunity for us in times like these.

Detailed info:

Cite: Basulto, David. "New High-Speed Rail Plan for the US" 16 Apr 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 28 May 2015. <>
  • dustin

    Great way to invest during the crisis

  • Niels

    Why the dead end on the TX-OK line?

  • chris

    Why not connect the entire west coast? People in San Diego want to go to Seattle TOO!!

  • Jason

    I think they are intentionally creating pieces so that later people will say.. “well why don’t we just connect line A to line B” If all the corridors in red were built, it would be easier then, to say… well let’s connect the California Line to the Pacific NorthWest line; let’s connect the TX-OK line all the way up to Chicago, etc… Then, eventually, you have a national system comparable to the interstate highway system.

    I like the idea. I live in San Francisco. We flew from SF to LA. We took an airport shuttle service. From our front door to stepping off the plane in LA took us almost exactly 5 hours. FIVE! Not 1:45! We could’ve driven in that time. Not to mention diversification of transportation infrastructure is a good thing as well as an alternative to the environmental impacts of air travel.

  • preetty sandhu

    Connect the west coast!!!!!!

  • INawe

    still disappointed we can’t get a Los Angeles to Las Vegas line. :( build more, more, more! :)

  • Fino


    that is all.

  • Idratherfly

    I can still drive from NC to WA faster than I could take a train.

    Have you seen the price for a ticket from High Point to Seattle?I can fly my family of four for less and get there the same day.

    Having visited New York recently I can say that the service in the north east is great. And could be only be improved with more high speed lines. However, I can’t see it working very well in the areas of the country where the metro areas are more spread out.

    Then there are the “necessary” subsidies required to keep the system remotely viable.

    I’d rather fly

  • preetty sandhu

    I don’t know how true this is, but I think there was a Prop for a speed line from LAX to Vegas, something about earthquakes and magnetism that derailed it. hhmmm.
    Just thinking of the orient express…..a great line that might pass through the pretty states from coast to coast might be too romantic , having said this, I would rather fly too, but LAX to Vegas, I think is commercially viable. A speed train from LA to las vegas…get out of here, it would be party train, it’ll work . I already hear Branson stirring awake.

  • fokt

    I believe the 1:45 is flight time only and does not include associated travel/wait times.

    I agree that it is easier to sell in the long run by designating a limited number of corridors that have traffic potential, and then to make an integrated system in future decades.

    I disagree with how the $8 billion is being allocated. Because of the high cost of infrastructure and rolling stock it makes sense to concentrate the billions on the Northeast Corridor where sections of that line already operate at relatively high speeds (150 mph), rather than spreading out the money so thin. The Northeast Corridor also has by far the largest number of passengers, and increasing speed, the number of trains, and creating dedicated tracks rather than sharing with freight lines would create an actual high-speed line that works and showcases the line as a successful working example. Even just focusing on the Northeast Corridor would require much more than $8 billion dollars, but it’s the only high speed line in existence in North America.

    California would be the second best option, but they require at least $50 billion for something like one train, so current federal funding doesn’t help much.

  • Scott

    Connect all of the lines. Especially the ones in proximity to each other.

  • kenny

    Is this plan Obama’s New Deal?

    Shinkansen(Japanese bullet train)will link New York City and Washington DC in 1hr30min.

  • One

    A great plan. The plan should include next steps that will se West coast connected with the east, mid to midwest, to florida. Why not USA neshed by the hghspeed line net works?

  • Americo

    America is not the whole continent?
    North America, Central America & South America..

  • davvid

    This plan is very good news for rust belt cities struggling to redevelop themselves.

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  • Massimiliano

    And Phoenix, AZ gets shafted.

  • Opium

    Well i guess this is more of an all american topic but obama makes me angry because the way he lies with such conviction.The truth is that the high speed train line beetwen madrid and seville was so expensive and has so little use that the company who runs it predicts that it will never…not in a hundred years…never will be rentable and give profit. Obama is just spending and spending money he doesn’t have…is like those guys who make false money with home printer…only his is much bigger and the money. XXI century expression “It’s not worth a dollar”..

  • Lucas Gray

    Any step in this direction is fantastic. Its remarkable how far behind the rest of the world we have fallen. The rail system in China is much more convenient and developed than ours – and much more affordable for passengers.

    8 billion might not be enough to complete all or any of the proposed lines but its a great first step and hopefully will be supplemented by private investors and companies.

  • Phillipe Donato

    I just think the plan name should be changed to VISION for HIGH-SPEED RAIL in USA. AMERICA is a continent name , as far as I know ..

  • Jay @ CareerNumbers

    Just now discovering this post, but I think another good question is: how will infrastructure affect active architects?

    With high-speed rail being cheaper and easier than airline travel, even small firms will be better able to compete nationally. And instead of a 1 hour commute being only enough to get you to the next state, it might be enough to get you across several. Interesting implications for the talent market.

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