First US-Made Bullet Train (Boston, N.Y., D.C.) Has Hit A Snag

by SharonKurheg

Joe and I have written a lot about the high speed Brightline train that’s scheduled to start running later this month between Orlando and Miami (it’s been running between Miami and West Palm Beach for a few years now). Most recently:

We are definitely going to use Brightline when we go on our next cruise out of the Port of Miami early next year. Everything I’ve read about it, on top of our own experiences with the train so far, points to it being a great ride. My only grump is that it’s not really a high speed rail.

  • The estimated time for Brightline to travel from MCO to MIA is 3 hours and 33 minutes.
  • The estimated time to drive from MCO to MIA (with no traffic), is 3 hours and 26 minutes.

Not exactly a timesaver.

But it lets you relax instead of drive, you don’t have to worry about the possibility of construction or traffic, you save on gasoline and wear & tear on your car, etc. And if you splurge on a Premium fare, you get dedicated access to their premium lounge, plus priority boarding, checked luggage, and complimentary meal, snacks, and beverages throughout the journey. So in that respect, it’s better than driving.

But if you’re trying to save time, it’s still not the equivalent (or even close to the equivalent) of a bullet train.

Amtrak is chomping at the bit to roll out its highly anticipated high-speed train in the northeast corridor. It will be the first U.S.-made “bullet” trains, and offers the promise of cutting transportation emissions by attracting new rail passengers who currently drive or fly. They were supposed to start running as early as 2024 between Boston, New York and Washington.

There’s just one problem: the 450-mile route doesn’t have modern tracks that can handle the speed.

Amtrak originally pitched these new bullet trains as a quicker, cheaper and a more environmentally friendly alternative to driving or flying. But the trains would be riding on tracks that were built more than a century ago. They were intended for much slower commuter and freight service and are filled with sharp curves, bottlenecks, decaying tunnels and bridges, and overhead power lines that slow trains down. The bullet cars will be forced to run slower than 110 mph in most segments.

How slow? Well, the International Union of Railways, a professional association representing the rail industry,  defines high-speed rail as trains that travel faster than 155 mph on special tracks. There are sections of Amtrak’s express Acela service between Boston and Washington, where trains currently can’t go more than 30mph.

Right now, only 32 miles of tracks on the Northeast Corridor can handle speeds up to 160 mph. Amtrak has a plan to make an additional 100 miles of tracks (of the 450 miles it would run) capable of handling bullet trains in the next 12 years. With that, the expansion would enable bullet trains to hit 160 mph in roughly 30 percent of the rail route by 2035. That’s over a decade after they start operating. Amtrak says it will cost $117 billion just to modernize the northeast portion of the country – and that just means fixing the old, decrepit broken stuff.

If (and that’s a big “if”) Amtrak can get the funding it needs, the track improvements between Boston and Washington will cut travel time by about an hour, to about 5 ½ hours.

High-speed trains in Europe and Asia currently take around three hours to travel similar distances. 🤦🏻‍♀️

Feature Photo (cropped): Michael Kurras (Shreder 9100 at English Wikipedia) / Wikipedia / CC BY 3.0

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