Comparing U.S. Trains To Foreign Lines
NOAH ADAMS, host:
It would take a long time, decades even, for the U.S. to get to where Europe and Japan are right now with their high-speed rail lines. And China, China is well on its way to building the world's largest high-speed network. The dollar figure there estimated to be $730 billion by 2012. Robert Cruikshank is a high-speed train enthusiast. He runs the California High Speed Rail blog, joining us from KAZU in Seaside, California.
You have a rail blog for high-speed in California?
Mr. ROBERT CRUIKSHANK (Creator, California High Speed Rail Blog): Someone's got to have one. It's an important project for the state.
ADAMS: Let's pull back from California high-speed to talk about United States high-speed. Compared to what they have in Europe and Japan, we've been hearing all about it, is it fair to say - well, we heard about slow trains there in Chicago from Cheryl and David. But is it fair to say what's proposed here is sort of like higher speed?
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: In the Midwest, that's true. What is proposed is not a bullet-style train, such as used in France or Japan. It is an intermediate-speed train, certainly much higher than we have in the U.S. right now. And many European nations already use trains that go between 110, 125 miles per hour, such as is being proposed in the Midwest.
The European high-speed rail system is not just bullet trains. These other trains that go in the lower 100-mile-an-hour range are an important part of how they move their passengers around. And they can certainly help improve the way we move passengers around in not just the Midwest, but in many other parts of the United States as well.
ADAMS: Just to define it, what is the limit for high-speed versus fast, let's say? What is a true high-speed train?
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: The U.S. Department of Transportation currently defines extreme high-speed rail as around 200 to 220 miles per hour. Basic high-speed rail, such as is being proposed in the Midwest, certainly qualifies as high-speed. The U.S. Department of Transportation qualifies anything above 110 miles an hour as high-speed.
ADAMS: The California line would be dedicated? Isn't that - that's the big cost.
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: That is the big cost. What we're planning to do here in California is build separate tracks so that trains are no longer sharing tracks with freight trains. You will be on dedicated tracks going from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in about two hours 40 minutes.
ADAMS: With the California project in mind with the Upper Midwest, let's look again at France, at Germany, at China, for example, and say what are those countries doing that the United States really isn't possibly going to be willing to do? How much money is going to have to be spent, tax money?
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: Well, I think I would separate out Europe and China in this example. Europe has about a 30-year head start on us. In the 1970s and 1980s, many European nations - during the 1970s oil crisis - realized that they needed to develop alternatives to the airplane and to the car for getting people around their cities and between their cities. So they started the investment and they're living off the dividend of that.
China is in a different place. China is actually analogous to the United States where they don't have a high-speed rail network at all. China is willing to sink that investment into their economy and they're explicitly doing that as economic stimulus.
We're currently not thinking in those terms. We're certainly not planning to sink $700 billion into a high-speed rail network. We'll be lucky if we see, I think, 10 billion spent over the next five years.
ADAMS: You know, that's big money, but it sounds like you're saying that's not enough.
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: It's not enough. What we need to do is we need to start, obviously, to improve our passenger rail network. The California high-speed rail plan is going to cost at least $40 billion.
To build a true high-speed rail across the country, we'll need to spend well above $100 billion. That's currently not on the table, but people in the United States need to debate this, need to decide whether we want to sink that investment into growing a sustainable transportation infrastructure, or whether we want to sort of hobble along with the legacy of the 20th century.
ADAMS: Robert Cruikshank is a high-speed train enthusiast, as you can hear. And he runs the California High Speed Rail blog.
Thank you, Mr. Cruikshank.
Mr. CRUIKSHANK: Thank you.
ADAMS: And that ends our weeklong series on the future of high-speed rail in the U.S. You can explore the other stories in the series and see a map of projected high-speed rail lines, all at the new NPR.org.
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