Just what does "high-speed rail" mean, exactly?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DailyKos has a great diary entry here on the front page yesterday that explains just what "high-speed rail" means and why the term doesn't just imply bullet trains speeding along at 300+ kph. It's a long read but very worth it so you should spend the time it takes to read over the whole thing but what it mostly does is explain the terms Emerging HSR, Regional HSR, and Express HSR. The basic idea behind making HSR successful nationwide is creating a service just fast enough in a region that driving a car from one destination to another isn't as appealing as taking the train, because once rail has reached a certain speed it's not only a certain amount faster than driving a car but there's also the added benefit of being able to relax on the way and get other things done as you go. This means that you don't always need extremely fast (and expensive) bullet trains, simply trains that are fast enough that it isn't really worth it to take the car anymore.

One other important note in the diary entry is that high-speed trains can still drive at lower speeds over conventional track. The KTX here in Korea for example can only run at 300+ kph in the area from Seoul to Daegu (that's about two-thirds of the entire route), but that doesn't mean that you have to get off the train after Daegu in order to get to Busan (the city in the south where the line ends); you stay on the same train and it continues at conventional speeds for the rest of the way. So it's good to remember that a short high-speed line from City X to City Y doesn't just mean a train running back and forth between these two cities alone, but rather may mean a train that starts at conventional speeds from City W, moving to higher speeds after City X and up until City Y, and then back to conventional speeds again all the way to City Z.

Anyway, read the entry on DailyKos because it explains all this in much greater detail than here. It's great for those that wonder just how the US is going to be able to make the switch to high-speed rail with only $8 billion extra up front and $1 billion extra a year from the federal government. Apparently if things go as planned ground can be broken for these lines by 2012 and passengers could start riding these new lines by 2014.


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