There is an interesting blog post at carectomy.com about the state of the US rail transportation system. The article mentions the “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act” of 2007 (S.294) that cleared the Senate at the end of October with a $10 billion provision for building a high-speed rail network throughout the nation.
I suspect that amount is way too low to achieve all that much, at least if the idea is to build high speed rail in densely populated areas: consider the cost of the inevitable eminent domain to improve tracks and/or build high-speed tracks. I’d like to see rail funding on par with airline subsidies – but at least this is a start.
I do worry about the definition of high-speed. Amtrak’s Acela Express is as good as it gets in this country, but it’s a far cry from what is considered high-speed rail in Europe and Japan. As the wikipedia article explains, this is mostly due to track quality and the fact that the Acela does not run on tracks that have been purpose-built for high-speed rail. Seems like there is lots of room for improvement by upgrading sections of track – but Amtrak does not actually own some of the slowest parts of the track…
At least the increases in (Acela) ridership are promising – the monthly performance reports show rising ridership for Amtrak as a whole, and the Acela in particular. I suspect that trend will continue in the foreseeable future as flying is such a hassle these days.