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View Poll Results: Should the US build or improve it's HSR network?
Yes 249 89.57%
No 29 10.43%
Voters: 278. You may not vote on this poll

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Old October 22nd, 2019, 06:43 PM   #7701
mgk920
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IMHO, we should be concentrating on upgrading existing local and regional passenger routes and re-establishing former local and regional passenger routes that make useful and economic sense. One that I often cite in these sorts of discussions is one that operated up until 'Amtrak Day' in 1971 - Chicago and North Western's Chicago-Milwaukee-Green Bay, WI service via my hometown of Appleton, WI. It was a very popular 'daytrip' route that Amtrak wanted to take over at their startup but was ultimately unable to due to the state politics and general attitudes of the time - the late 1960s were an era of the Apollo Moon missions, airlines buying jet-powered airliners en masse and the period of maximum development activity of the interstate highway system while trains were thought of as being 'quaint' and 'old fashioned'.

As more of these routes are re-opened and brought up to more modern useful standards public demand for even better services like 'true' HSR will take care of the rest.

------------------------

Perhaps it is time to reflag this thread to something like 'UNITED STATES | Passenger Rail' and remove the poll. This is an interesting discussion on modern passenger services in general.

Mike
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Old October 22nd, 2019, 10:20 PM   #7702
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------------------------

Perhaps it is time to reflag this thread to something like 'UNITED STATES | Passenger Rail' and remove the poll. This is an interesting discussion on modern passenger services in general.

Mike
There's already a thread for that: https://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=223895

But I agree on removing the poll if we can.
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Old October 23rd, 2019, 01:51 AM   #7703
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The thing that really bugs me about the whole rail situation in the U.S. is that rail really does work better for people than it does for freight.
1) Moving 80 kg humans takes massively less energy than moving hundreds of tons of gravel, lumber, et al. The energy efficiency of rail vs tires means a lot more to freight rail than it does to human transit.

2) Bulk goods are not very time sensitive while people care a lot about getting to their destinations quickly, so the slow speeds of rail vs air matter are more acceptable for freight rail than for passenger transport. Even in Japan people prefer to fly rather than take the shinkansen if the train takes longer than 3 hours. It would take 24 hours to get from San Francisco to DC by rail even with a very good HSR across America.

How would you move a thousand tons of lumber from the Pacific Northwest to Florida if not by rail?

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The classic, American, autocentric model of development never really worked all that well for everyone, always being too expensive in terms of money and other resources. East Asian density--like you see in Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore--paired with Western-quality institutions (at least as they are idealized to be) will be what makes urban areas in the 21st century.
This is the issue that people seem to miss with public transport. Transit advocates seem to believe that Europe and Asia are urbanized because they have good public transport. It is exactly the opposite. Europe and Asia have good public transit because they have dense urban areas that are close enough to each other that HSR provides faster connection than aircraft do.
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Old October 23rd, 2019, 06:44 AM   #7704
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1. Okay....but I'm sure I'm not shedding new light by saying that public transit is much, much more efficient than cars in every way.
2. People adjust their schedules to what transit needs of them. E.g., getting from my hometown of Manchester, NH takes--without traffic-- to Boston takes about an hour. However, people know that congestion is bad enough to often double that, and so will leave here two hours before they need to be there. If you have frequent enough bus or rail service, people can plan to take transit at the appropriate time, for (in the hypothetical that they don't already have a car) much less resource investment than a car necessitates.

I suppose I'm not advocating for passenger rail vs. freight rail; I'd be thrilled for both. But for whatever reason, people seem to not see the former.

And you can't pretend that it's an entirely one-way street--that good transit only occurs where high population density is. The causal connection there is bidirectional and certainly not fixed; there are many places where transit ought to serve well and doesn't for other reasons, and as evinced by the long-haul Amtrak services, plenty of places where rail transit ought not to be but is (if only just serviceably so).

Really, I'm kind of conflating metro transit and intercity rail AS transit, but they can and do both work best as a single system.
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Old October 23rd, 2019, 07:29 AM   #7705
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Originally Posted by Nacre View Post
This is the issue that people seem to miss with public transport. Transit advocates seem to believe that Europe and Asia are urbanized because they have good public transport. It is exactly the opposite. Europe and Asia have good public transit because they have dense urban areas that are close enough to each other that HSR provides faster connection than aircraft do.
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1. Okay....but I'm sure I'm not shedding new light by saying that public transit is much, much more efficient than cars in every way.
I suppose I'm not advocating for passenger rail vs. freight rail; I'd be thrilled for both. But for whatever reason, people seem to not see the former.

And you can't pretend that it's an entirely one-way street--that good transit only occurs where high population density is. The causal connection there is bidirectional and certainly not fixed; there are many places where transit ought to serve well and doesn't for other reasons, and as evinced by the long-haul Amtrak services, plenty of places where rail transit ought not to be but is (if only just serviceably so).

Really, I'm kind of conflating metro transit and intercity rail AS transit, but they can and do both work best as a single system.
One just has to look at Australia, a country which is even thinly populated than the US. Its economy depends on mineral extraction and hence freight railways ae important in order to support such an economy. However all the major Australian metropolitan cities have good dependable commuter train systems and some also have excellent tram/light rail systems. American cities of similar size often have less transit. some Australian states also run regional systems albeit oriented around their capital cities.
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Old October 23rd, 2019, 11:59 PM   #7706
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1. Okay....but I'm sure I'm not shedding new light by saying that public transit is much, much more efficient than cars in every way.
I didn't say it wasn't. I was responding to your argument that there is more incentive for passenger rail than freight rail.

Public transport isn't dependent upon rail. There are lots of other options: buses, aerial gondolas, et al. And in fact bicycles are far more energy efficient, healthy, and cheaper than public transit and even faster in most urban areas. Amsterdam has a relatively limited mass transit system for a dense city of its size and the Dutch economy and lifestyle do not suffer from the majority of people in their cities using bikes.

There isn't a viable alternative to freight rail in North America. The Canadian and American governments are not going to neuter CP, BNSF and Union Pacific in order to institute more passenger traffic by rail. And unfortunately the needs of HSR and freight rail are very different. The freight rail companies want cheap, easily maintained low speed track without the extra expenses needed for HSR.

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One just has to look at Australia, a country which is even thinly populated than the US. Its economy depends on mineral extraction and hence freight railways ae important in order to support such an economy. However all the major Australian metropolitan cities have good dependable commuter train systems and some also have excellent tram/light rail systems. American cities of similar size often have less transit. some Australian states also run regional systems albeit oriented around their capital cities.
Australia doesn't have HSR either. They have better medium speed rail and commuter rail than North America . . . and that's precisely what I am arguing for. We need to set modest, achievable goals for Amtrak and comparing the USA to Japan or France is silly. The Australian comparison is a fair one, and we should aim for similar improvements.

A good example is the use of aircraft style lie-flat seating on the Spirit of Queensland. (They call it RailBed seating.) This would make long distance trips more affordable than Amtrak's roomettes and more comfortable than regular seating.

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Old October 24th, 2019, 12:11 AM   #7707
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Australia doesn't have HSR either. They have better medium speed rail and commuter rail than North America . . . and that's precisely what I am arguing for. We need to set modest, achievable goals for Amtrak and comparing the USA to Japan or France is silly. The Australian comparison is a fair one, and we should aim for similar improvements.
Australia is about 80% the size of the US but has only 7% the population. It is nothing close to an analogous comparison. The reason Australia doesn't have HSR is because there's almost no sufficiently sized cities clustered close enough to connect with an HSR line. The US has no less than 5 or 6 such clusters (Bos-Wash, Chicago spiderweb, Cali, PNW, etc).
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Old October 24th, 2019, 03:41 AM   #7708
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Originally Posted by aquaticko View Post
1. Okay....but I'm sure I'm not shedding new light by saying that public transit is much, much more efficient than cars in every way.
2. People adjust their schedules to what transit needs of them. E.g., getting from my hometown of Manchester, NH takes--without traffic-- to Boston takes about an hour. However, people know that congestion is bad enough to often double that, and so will leave here two hours before they need to be there. If you have frequent enough bus or rail service, people can plan to take transit at the appropriate time, for (in the hypothetical that they don't already have a car) much less resource investment than a car necessitates.
Fact: The run to Concord, NH (which is further than Manchester) was once done in 75 minutes, iirc (90 definitely). Yes, rail can be time-competitive to a surprising degree.
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Old October 24th, 2019, 07:16 AM   #7709
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Australia doesn't have HSR either. They have better medium speed rail and commuter rail than North America . . . and that's precisely what I am arguing for. We need to set modest, achievable goals for Amtrak and comparing the USA to Japan or France is silly. The Australian comparison is a fair one, and we should aim for similar improvements.

A good example is the use of aircraft style lie-flat seating on the Spirit of Queensland. (They call it RailBed seating.) This would make long distance trips more affordable than Amtrak's roomettes and more comfortable than regular seating.
My response was about public transportation in general not needing dense urban cores to be of good quality. A less densely populated country can also have good public transport (particularly rail based) if it gets its policy/priorities/funding right. Big freight railroads need not be an impediment if the public and policy makers are firm on having good quality passenger rail transport including HSR(wherever applicable).

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This is the issue that people seem to miss with public transport. Transit advocates seem to believe that Europe and Asia are urbanized because they have good public transport. It is exactly the opposite. Europe and Asia have good public transit because they have dense urban areas that are close enough to each other that HSR provides faster connection than aircraft do.
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Old October 25th, 2019, 02:48 AM   #7710
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Re-checked: Boston to Manchester in 64 minutes in 1957. With modern technology, you could probably shave ten minutes off of that.
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Old October 25th, 2019, 08:41 AM   #7711
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Australia is about 80% the size of the US but has only 7% the population. It is nothing close to an analogous comparison. The reason Australia doesn't have HSR is because there's almost no sufficiently sized cities clustered close enough to connect with an HSR line. The US has no less than 5 or 6 such clusters (Bos-Wash, Chicago spiderweb, Cali, PNW, etc).
But this is making the same mistake that critics do when they claim that the US is not dense enough for modern rail infrastructure: ignoring that Australia's population is not spread in one farmsteader schmear across the Outback but rather concentrated in an urban corridor in the country's southeast, running from Adelaide through Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney to the Gold Coast and Brisbane. While the region outside of this corridor only has a tiny handful of major conurbations, this corridor does have potential for high speed rail and has been studied for such in the past. Australia is much akin to Canada in that the bulk of its population lives in one relatively small part of the country while the rest is borderline uninhabitable (hot desert, frigid taiga, both yield the same results here).
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There isn't a viable alternative to freight rail in North America. The Canadian and American governments are not going to neuter CP, BNSF and Union Pacific in order to institute more passenger traffic by rail. And unfortunately the needs of HSR and freight rail are very different. The freight rail companies want cheap, easily maintained low speed track without the extra expenses needed for HSR.
Recall here that historically the same railroads which were the ancestors of modern American and Canadian railroading were on the forefront of high-speed rail. Trains like the Hiawatha routinely ran at 100 mph or better, and first modern trainset in the world was the Burlington Route's Pioneer Zephyr. When one looks at legacy alignments, especially in flatter parts of the country, one sees relatively few impediments to developing HSR in terms of extant line geometry.

And here's the crux of the problem: Higher-speed passenger service is going to require improving corridors shared with freight. There's no two ways around it. For as much of a hassle as dealing with the freight companies is, it's still much easier than trying to lay greenfield rail the way we lay roads. The real political issue is that, if we are going to have good-quality commuter and regional rail (which I completely agree is the precursor to proper HSR) in this country, we are going to either have to work with the freight railroads for our goals (say, with carrots like tax breaks for providing pax slots) or tee off against them.
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Old October 25th, 2019, 04:57 PM   #7712
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That's my point.

For the same amount of money, I would rather have 150 kph regional train lines and better local transit options than spend it all on a 200 kph train line. Getting existing Amtrak services in California up to the standard of the French Intercites (avg roughly 60 mph w/ stops) and then upgrading local transit services like the light rail/trams in Sacramento is a better use of money than building something equivalent to the French TGV.
How do you do that? Take the Central Valley situation we are talking about. You can't upgrade the existing rail lines because their owners, UPRR and BNSF, hate passenger trains on their rail lines and while BNSF currently begrudgingly allows AMTRAK to run some services it does so only so long as it doesn't require any modifications to its infrastructure.

So, if you want faster passenger trains you are forced to build an entirely new line in its own right of way. If you are already doing that you might as well make it a 200 mph line.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 02:35 AM   #7713
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How do you do that?
* signaling upgrades
* eliminate crossings at grade with viaducts and/or bridges
* more passing loops
* build new track to replace sharp curves (like this one)
* battery-electric multiple unit cars for Amtrak
* electrification at railroad stations for recharging BEMU cars

It is much easier to convince freight rail companies to go along with those changes than it is to rebuild entire lines with concrete sleepers, class 6 track, etc.

These upgrades wouldn't be cheap either. I am not suggesting zero government subsidy for Amtrak. I want a very large investment and public subsidy. But this amount of investment is actually feasible; even a blue state like California isn't going to hand Amtrak the blank check it needs to get HSR done.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 04:15 AM   #7714
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Construction of Southern California – Las Vegas high-speed line to start next year

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The approximately 270km line will have a maximum speed of 290km/h, Mr Bob O’Malley, Virgin Trains’ vice-president of corporate development, told the Clark County Commission earlier this week, and will run from a station on Las Vegas Boulevard, between Warm Springs and Blue Diamond roads, to Victorville, about 137km northeast of Los Angeles. Future plans would see the line extended to Union Station in central Los Angeles.

Services will operate at a frequency up to 45 minutes.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reports Virgin Trains is seeking the backing of the Clark County Commission before going in front of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry next month.

Virgin Trains USA confirmed in September 2018 that it had acquired XpressWest, which has rights to develop the line, and announced in August it was seeking approval from the states of California and Nevada to raise as much as $US 3.6bn in tax-exempt bonds for the high-speed line.

California last month approved $US 300m in tax-exempt, private activity bonds to help finance the project.

Virgin Trains USA currently operates a passenger services between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida, with an extension to Orlando under construction. A major aspect of Virgin Trains USA’s business plan involves developing retail and office space around the station, and the company plans to emulate this in Las Vegas.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 04:31 AM   #7715
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Originally Posted by Nacre View Post
* signaling upgrades
* eliminate crossings at grade with viaducts and/or bridges
* more passing loops
* build new track to replace sharp curves (like this one)
* battery-electric multiple unit cars for Amtrak
* electrification at railroad stations for recharging BEMU cars

It is much easier to convince freight rail companies to go along with those changes than it is to rebuild entire lines with concrete sleepers, class 6 track, etc.

These upgrades wouldn't be cheap either. I am not suggesting zero government subsidy for Amtrak. I want a very large investment and public subsidy. But this amount of investment is actually feasible; even a blue state like California isn't going to hand Amtrak the blank check it needs to get HSR done.
My only major objection to this approach is that each individual step presents opportunities for delays (of every origin) and cost overruns. If the U.S. is internationally bad at keeping any singular project on time and on budget, then a good way to exacerbate that problem is to create lots of individual projects to accomplish a single goal.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 04:47 AM   #7716
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* build new track to replace sharp curves (like this one)
Hmm... Ironic example, as that was on a new section of track that was built to help speed up and improve reliability on the Amtrak Cascades line (Point Defiance Bypass).
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Old October 26th, 2019, 07:27 AM   #7717
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nacre View Post
* signaling upgrades
* eliminate crossings at grade with viaducts and/or bridges
* more passing loops
* build new track to replace sharp curves (like this one)
* battery-electric multiple unit cars for Amtrak
* electrification at railroad stations for recharging BEMU cars

It is much easier to convince freight rail companies to go along with those changes than it is to rebuild entire lines with concrete sleepers, class 6 track, etc.

These upgrades wouldn't be cheap either. I am not suggesting zero government subsidy for Amtrak. I want a very large investment and public subsidy. But this amount of investment is actually feasible; even a blue state like California isn't going to hand Amtrak the blank check it needs to get HSR done.
Well, let us take Fresno as a case study. Two rail lines traverse it, the BNSF line currently takes Amtrak but it is very curvy and all trains are limited to 25 mph through the city. UPRR has a straight shot but has declared they will never allow passenger trains on their Central Valley tracks.

So we now have two options: (1)Upgrade the BNSF tracks or (2) build a new rail line. BNSF would welcome a certain number of upgrades but we have the issue that their Central Valley line is very curvy and Fresno is the worst. In order to get even up to 110 mph service you would have to deviate from the existing tracks so much that you are essentially constructing a totally new rail line. Worse you'd be driving it through densely populated working class neighborhoods displacing tens of thousands of financially strapped people.

Okay, so possibly you could just build an entirely new line and make up for the displacements by moving BNSF to the new line as well and then using their now abandoned right of way to build new housing. What would that cost?

Oh...wait.....CAHSR ended up studying all this when they were planning the Fresno route and determined that it would cost just as much to do that as it would to build a new 200 mph line roughly adjacent to the UPRR on a new right of way. Which is what they ended up building.

Look, if I'm testy it is because I've been intimately involved with the planning from the beginning. I get that people have their own ideas on how it should have been done but I assure you that just about everything was studied and vetted. What ended up happening seemed to be the best value in getting a new electrified passenger rail line in the Central Valley.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 08:18 AM   #7718
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Hmm... Ironic example, as that was on a new section of track that was built to help speed up and improve reliability on the Amtrak Cascades line (Point Defiance Bypass).
It is a perfect example of how the USA screws up the basics of passenger rail. Fighting between the railroads, congress, Amtrak and the State of Washington meant that we weren't able to deliver on either straightening the track or positive train control. There is massive scope for improvement in rail transit just by fixing very elementary problems.

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UPRR has a straight shot but has declared they will never allow passenger trains on their Central Valley tracks.
Congress can use eminent domain to solve that problem if they aren't willing to be reasonable. The courts can force them to accept a fair fee to let Amtrak use their existing track.

But if government use of a property renders it unfit for the owner, then the gov't has to buy it outright. That's the problem with HSR; to make that kind of drastic change the government would have to buy the freight companies outright because maintaining HSR track isn't compatible with the railroads' business model. (Incidentally the reason this isn't an issue in Japan is that less than 1% of goods are shipped by rail in Japan. It's >15% in the USA.)
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Old October 26th, 2019, 09:50 AM   #7719
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But this is making the same mistake that critics do when they claim that the US is not dense enough for modern rail infrastructure: ignoring that Australia's population is not spread in one farmsteader schmear across the Outback but rather concentrated in an urban corridor in the country's southeast, running from Adelaide through Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney to the Gold Coast and Brisbane. While the region outside of this corridor only has a tiny handful of major conurbations, this corridor does have potential for high speed rail and has been studied for such in the past. Australia is much akin to Canada in that the bulk of its population lives in one relatively small part of the country while the rest is borderline uninhabitable (hot desert, frigid taiga, both yield the same results here).
Yet, the Canadian railways still miss out on a lot of potential, in which services in the Toronto area are still limited (especially compared to Sydney and Melbourne), there's barely any electrified railway line even for commuter rail, while long-distance rail misses out even on large metropolises like Calgary which could easily be connected to Edmonton. Also note that Canada has 1.5x the population of Australia. Meanwhile, Australia, first misses out at Sunshine Coast by a small margin and after that on Hobart which is obviously too far away from the mainland. Both haven't remotely the size of Calgary, or, for my part, Phoenix.

So yes, given that answer of Phoenix, plus a lot of important 50k+-suburbs not being served by railways* the USA seems lagging the most from all of them, especially since it's population density is comparable to Scandinavia where rail connections are excellent. Only in and around a few cities the network is of a high standard, comparable to Australia and some parts of Europe, and better than anywhere in Canada.

*that 50k population is for my reference. In the Netherlands, we miss out on Oosterhout being the largest city without any rail connection while it easily could have been different with good policy.
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Old October 26th, 2019, 10:11 AM   #7720
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It is a perfect example of how the USA screws up the basics of passenger rail. Fighting between the railroads, congress, Amtrak and the State of Washington meant that we weren't able to deliver on either straightening the track or positive train control. There is massive scope for improvement in rail transit just by fixing very elementary problems.



Congress can use eminent domain to solve that problem if they aren't willing to be reasonable. The courts can force them to accept a fair fee to let Amtrak use their existing track.

But if government use of a property renders it unfit for the owner, then the gov't has to buy it outright. That's the problem with HSR; to make that kind of drastic change the government would have to buy the freight companies outright because maintaining HSR track isn't compatible with the railroads' business model. (Incidentally the reason this isn't an issue in Japan is that less than 1% of goods are shipped by rail in Japan. It's >15% in the USA.)
The Federal Govt can buy the ROW/land on the Main corridors (not all routes) from the railroad companies. It doesn't have to buy the entire company. The railroad companies can continue to exist separately, can maintain their tracks on federal land and own trackage/land apart from the main corridors. Amtrak can then setup its facilities on the main corridors and/or jointly main tracks with the railroad companies.
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