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High Speed Rail (HSR) in the United States

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Congressional rept.

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Congress has been interested in high speed rail HSR since the 1960s. Provision of 8 billion for intercity passenger rail and high speed rail projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ARRA P.L. 111-5, enacted in February 2009, has catalyzed enthusiasm for high speed rail. There are two approaches to HSR improving existing tracks and signaling to allow trains to travel somewhat faster, typically to as much as 110 miles per hour mph, generally on track shared with freight trains and building new tracks dedicated exclusively to high speed passenger rail service, to allow trains to travel at speeds of 200 mph or more. The potential costs, and benefits, are relatively lower with the first approach and higher with the second approach. Current discussions of high speed rail programs and policies sometimes fail to clearly distinguish between these two approaches. Estimates of the cost of constructing HSR vary according to the speed sought, the geography of the corridor, the cost of right-of-way, and other factors. Experts say that virtually no HSR lines anywhere in the world have earned enough revenue to cover both their construction and operating costs. Typically, governments have paid the construction costs, and in many cases have subsidized the operating costs as well. Proponents contend that it offers benefits to society at large, that it can be a more energy efficient and less polluting transportation alternative. In light of the lack of experience with high speed rail development in the United States, HSR projects are likely to face many challenges, including securing adequate funding over the long term and complexity of implementation. Given the variety of arguments both for and against high speed rail, and the costs of high speed rail in light of the constrained federal budget, Congress may wish to carefully consider further investment in high speed rail.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Surface Transportation and Equipment

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