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High-Speed Rail Gets A Boost In The U.S.

Science Friday

29-05-2024 • 16 mins

While the US was known for its railroads in the 1800s, we’ve fallen behind places like Japan, China, and Europe, which have invested in trains that go upwards of 200 miles per hour. There are economic, environmental, and practical benefits of electrified high-speed rail. But for generations, the US decreased passenger rail service and invested instead in highways and car-centric infrastructure.

But it appears we’re hitting a turning point. After decades in development, major sections of California’s high-speed rail project, which aims to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, have been completed. And the project recently received a $3.1 billion federal grant to aid in further construction. Additionally, Amtrak is expanding service and increasing the speed of its trains. And private industry is also stepping in to fill the void—a rail company called Brightline has been operating in Florida since 2018. It now provides service between Miami and Orlando, and just broke ground on a high-speed route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

But it’s not just California and Florida where growth is happening. Multiple regions in the US, including Texas and the Pacific Northwest, are actively planning high-speed rail lines between cities that are generally too long to drive between, but too close to justify air travel. (France recently banned short-hop flights over those kinds of distances to reduce carbon emissions and encourage people to take existing passenger rail.)

Rod Diridon Sr., co-chair for the US High Speed Rail Association, fills Ira in on the current state of faster passenger rail in the US, what challenges it still faces, and why he thinks there’s been a shift in public opinion about expanded train service.

Transcripts for each segment will be available after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.

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