Is high speed rail becoming more viable in the Intermountain West?

 

By Allan Best

If you look at a map showing federally designated high-speed rail corridors in the United States, the Great Plains and intermountain West look like some kind of giant inland sea. From Kansas City to Sacramento, it’s all blank.

But representatives from several of the West’s metropolitan areas – Denver, Salt Lake City, Reno, Las Vegas, and Phoenix – have set out to begin imagining a different transportation web across the West. To make high-speed rail work, say proponents, it can’t share tracks with lumbering freight trains or dawdling Amtrak trains. The new train will need their own dedicated routes.

The Western High Speed Rail Alliance, a group formed in August 2009, recently got a $1 million grant from the Obama administration for planning. Half the money must go to a link between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles Basin. The other half can be used to begin shaping high-speed corridors among the intermountain West’s metropolitan areas, most of them 400 to 500 miles apart.

High speed rail map courtesy US Department of Transportation.

“You can’t build a national high-speed rail system and exclude 10 states,” says Tom Skancke, executive director of the Las Vegas-based Rail Alliance.  “It’s not just Eugene (Ore.) to Seattle, and San Diego to San Francisco, or Houston to Dallas. A national system has to include all states – just like the interstate highway system.”
Rail proponents often draw comparisons to interstate highways authorized by Congress in 1956 and 1957. They assume that high-speed rail, like interstate highways, must be a federal initiative, but possibly with foreign and private-sector investment.


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