Amtrak has touted its “high-speed rail” for years now, so they may have some problems naming the new trains that they’re going to begin testing near Baltimore (and elsewhere along the Northeast corridor) this week. REALLY really high speed rail? The We-Mean-It-This-Time-It’s-Seriously-Fast Train? Or maybe just the 165 M.P.H. Train?
Because, yes, these trains will go that fast — not the whole time, but along stretches between Boston and D.C.; for comparison, the Acela Express averages about 80 mph between those two cities. If the trains are as swift as planned, they’ll match the current record for rail speed in the U.S. Experts are predicting that the trip between Boston and Washington could take as little as 4 hours, while the current fastest trains take more than six hours to cover that distance.
Amtrak aims to start testing its new trains along a 21.3 mile stretch between Maryland and Delaware — but, alas, you won’t be able to get a ticket, as the train will be empty. This is just the trial run to make sure a train going that fast doesn’t catch on fire, or spontaneously combust.
The entire project is scheduled to last through 2040 (though the D.C. to New York portion will be completed by 2030), and involves a radical redesign of Union Station in D.C. The 427-mile dedicated high speed rail track will benefit congested roads and support economic growth, Amtrak says. In the meantime, Amtrak plans to expand the number and frequency of its current Acela Express service in expectation of growing capacity.
The Economist points out that Amtrak’s plans might be a little too ambitious for the current political climate, however: “Republicans control the House of Representatives and are, by and large, hostile to both high-speed rail and Amtrak,” they point out. Instead, perhaps, they suggest that Amtrak should focus its attention on smaller-scale, high-impact projects that would still increase speed along the Northeast corridor, albeit less dramatically.