Amtrak officials today announced the formation of American High-Speed Rail Corp., a spinoff that will seek private financing to establish the nation's first high-speed passenger "bullet train" between Los Angeles and San Diego.
In press conferences in Los Angeles and New York, Amtrak officials said the new company plans to use rail equipment designed by the Japanese for their sophisticated "Shinkansen" bullet train, modified to meet American needs and conditions. The Japanese bullet train has been in operation since 1964; a similar French train--the TGV, Tres Grande Vitesse, French for "very great speed"--started up last year. Both trains travel at speeds averaging between 130 and 170 miles per hour.
Lawrence D. Gilson, vice president of corporate development for Amtrak who was named president of the new corporation, said the planned U.S. high-speed trains, cruising at a speed of 160 miles per hour, would make the express run on the 125-mile corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego in 59 minutes. The current express rail time is two hours and 40 minutes. Trains that would serve intermediate stops would take 90 minutes between the two cities. Preliminary plans call for departures every half hour, more often during rush hours.
The new rail bed for the high speed train would be laid along and within the median of Interstate 5, with the cooperation of the state of California which owns the rights of way.
The new company got started with a $750,000 loan from Amtrak, enough to pay for marketing and financial packaging of its proposal. Over the next year, the new company will be seeking $2 billion in private financing. About a quarter of the money is expected to come from Japanese sources and the remainder from the United States and elsewhere. After the financing is secured, it would take five years to build the new railway.
"The formation of American High-Speed Rail Corp. marks the first major return of private capital to the rail passenger industry," Gilson said today.
Gilson said preliminary studies show that as many as 12 million passengers a year would use the new high-speed service being planned for the San Diego-Los Angeles run, about 30 percent of the total automobile, rail and air traffic using the corridor today. Although the California cities would be the first connected by a bullet train, other potential routes being considered for future development include Miami-Orlando-Tampa in Florida, Dallas-Houston-San Antonio in Texas, and routes radiating out from a Chicago hub.
Although Gilson and Amtrak chairman Alan S. Boyd, who has been named chairman of the new corporation's board of directors, are playing significant roles, the new corporation will not be subsidized by Amtrak. Boyd said that both Amtrak and the new company will share the results of engineering, marketing and other studies.