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March 19th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Are bullet trains worth the billions?

(CNN) – The Obama administration is betting that bullet trains are the magic bullet to solving a lot of our problems, from unemployment to pollution.

It's investing $8 billion in stimulus money in high-speed rail lines connecting cities across the country. A lot of the cash is heading to congested California.

But will it pay off? Our Casey Wian takes us on the long commute for answers.

Filed under: Transportation
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. tom sherman

    y people use or need these trains should be evaluated before they are built. most travel is firvilous. people shoeuld stay home. i am against. most products shipped on the interstate system are also. i am against rebuilding that to any great degree.

    March 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  2. AChancy

    Obviously, yes. Americans do need to commute. The car and highway system applied nationwide cripples our ability to be productive. It's almost as slow as our Internet system, or our understanding of that system. A lot of Americans aren't driving with valid drivers licenses and this train system would greatly reduce the illegal activity that happens on our roads. People need to open their minds to the possibilities not the impossibilities. Living in Japan for 2yrs, I've realized that a lot needs reform in this country. When will we stop talking about change and really start acting.

    March 22, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  3. A. Smith, Oregon

    For DECADES the Republican administrations have blocked mass transportation projects for high speed railroads and all electric powered projects which run contrary to their Big Oil masters profit margins.

    The American public has suffered as a result. Higher costs in their transportation needs, smog and pollution hug nearly all major metro areas courtesy of Republicans Big Oil partners.

    America's rail system has steadily declined to the morass state it currently is now in, thanks entirely to the horrific Republican party forcing everyone to belly up to their Big Oil masters by eliminating all competition.

    It should come as no surprise now with a Democratic majority in both the Congress, Senate and led by a Democratic President that this issue long obstructed and blocked by the Republican party has been moved to a priority.

    Electrical powered bullet trains cannot be touched nor equaled by any means of transportation which is entirely fossil fueled. Electrical motors are well over 90% efficient and rail vs trucks vs cargo planes also places Rail driven transportation as much greater in efficiency and the lowest in operating costs over decades.

    March 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  4. ronvandm

    Good Idea!! RIGHT. Make sure you build it right on the San Andreas Fault! Just what I would like to be doing is riding on a "bullet train" at 200MPH + during an earthquake! And its not so much that they want to build it BUT it has to go faster than anyone else! AH, the American Pride & thinking? !

    March 20, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  5. Alexander M. Williamson

    Good morning;
    This "bullet train " business is for the birds ( or maybe for those who have imbibed too much – power ).

    As a little boy in the 1940s and early 1950s, to travel longish distances – say 300 miles and more – the only practical choice available to my parents and I was rail:a local service train, express train , day coach, or a Pullman train. There were no interstate highways, and air travel usually meant a DC3 or Fairchild 440 , twin-engined 40 passenger propellor planes that travelled perhaps 300 miles per hour with a tail wind.

    With the advent of Interstate highways and powerful large cars, Americans came to prefer the "freedom of the road", augmented by speedy larger passenger planes of the jet era, beginning in the late 'fifties. When they could, Americans abandoned rail travel, a costly passenger service railroads were only too happy to terminate.

    The Penn Central debacle showed that passenger rail service was not, and is not, a self-sufficient economic enterprise in the United States. Perhaps if jet and automobile fuel were $ 8 or $ 9 per gallon , the situation would be different, but that seems a far off

    Even in the Northeast Corridor, let us say between Portland ,Maine to Richmond ,Virginia or some interval between, where the ridership appears the most willing and dense, the best trains run at no higher sustained speeds that the best old diesels and steam engines of the 1940s and 1950s. The trackage, especially between Philadelphia and DC., is not exactly to TGV standards in France, to say nothing of the prime lines in Japan. The track curves and right of way simply don't allow for "bullet trains". From what I've seeen, commuter fares may cover most operating costs – they don't cover the re-building , nor the purchase of new, rolling stock.

    Here in Atlanta, MARTA ( "rapid rail" in-city service ) is carefully avoided by those who can drive. Ridership has only increased when gasoline at the pump reaches about $ 4 per gallon. Here in Georgia, neither the Governor, nor the Legislature, nor even the people show any serious, solid, sustained interest in increasing public transit of any kind. In fact, bus service and routes have been diminished. The so-called Lovejoy ( passenger rail ) Project was allowed to lapse ( with the opportunity for Federal funds ) mainly for lack of interest. And we are told that "bullet trains" are some kind of "green magic" for the future ??? Even the present rail systems , for the most part, are but feeble shadows of what once was – for three simple reasons ; lack of interest, lack of use, and cost.

    In my opinion, before we wax euphoric over " bullet trains", we should focus on bettering existing service AND THE TRACKAGE. Perhaps longer trips could be then be seen as worthwhile, if there is speedy, on-time service on less abitious distances. New longer service express routes might be on the order of 100 – 300 miles, once each step is proven – to appeal to the public, on an affordable basis – both to ride and to sustain.

    At a time when the Federal Budget is plunging ever-deeper into the red, an open-ended rail adventure, which would soon attract its own self-perpetuating lobby, is something neither needed, nor wanted, nor affordable.


    A.M. Williamson

    March 20, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  6. J.V.Hodgson

    Hi speed rail.
    I went to Japan for business reasons for many years and on arrival found that the convenience, speed, start point and end point of journeys meant it was cheaper or the same cost as air fares but time wise less costly and much more effective with the Shinkansen journeys.
    While I agree high speed rail infrastructure is a key factor in long term america rcovery, should not be looking at traditional High speed rail links like shinkansen but at maglev trains which are even faster, and probably safer, and more energy efficient.
    Maglev is the answer, not traditional wheel and rail trains.

    March 20, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  7. jacknife

    bullet trains??? what ever happen to the tramrail. Even disney world has one. we dont need bullet trains for local commute. we need bill gates or some body with enought money to put tramrails in middle of the interstate system in this country.that would solve trafic jams and clean the air at the same time,if they were electric. or at least put them arround every major city in this country. park outside the loop and take the tramrail down town,does this make too much sense?.

    March 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm |