Hey, Not So Fast


I’m not one of those people who kvetches about how much better the subway is in New York. (Shut up or move there.) But I might start complaining about how much better it could be to get to New York.

The World Congress on High Speed Rail is meeting in Philly this week, and as a preview, transportation experts from around the world convened on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Ostensibly, they were there to explain what trains are like in their countries. My theory is they actually wanted to make us cry.

Satoshi Seino, CEO of East Japan Railway Co., said its “bullet train” network — which has been in operation since 1964 — has headways of about four minutes. To put that in perspective, I had waited earlier that day for seven minutes for a Metro train (and I thought that was pretty good).

Next waltzed up Guillaume Pepy, president of the French national rail authority, to say that his country has double-decker cars that can accommodate more than 1,000 passengers and travel at 200 mph. Oh, and the overall mission isn’t just to get people from one rail station to another, but to provide local, regional and intercity transit that’s a viable alternative to the automobile.

By the time the rest of the international parade stepped away from the podium, I was too depressed to go back to Union Station.

On Monday, Amtrak released an update to its “Vision for the Northeast Corridor,” which is essentially to put in legit high-speed rail. So, when will riders see this vision realized? 2040. And that’s assuming everything goes according to plan and the project gets funding. I wouldn’t count on either.

At Tuesday’s gathering in D.C., American Public Transportation Association president Michael Melaniphy proudly noted the results of a survey conducted in May. A majority of the Americans polled said they’d be likely to use high-speed trains, and that number shoots up to three quarters of millennials. But we’ll all become members of AARP before ever getting to take that promised 94-minute trip between D.C. and New York.

And while it’s nice that an L.A.-San Francisco route won approval last week, with a target date of 2028, I wouldn’t pin your HSR dreams on that yet.

At least the visitors at Tuesday’s event seem to be more optimistic about these proposals than I am. The International Union of Railways’ Jean-Pierre Loubinoux ended things on a hopeful note: “Where there’s a will, there’s a railway.”

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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Fiona Zublin · July 13, 2012