Doug Trumm of The Urbanist discovers the downside of cruise trains in mountainous territory.
I took a trip on the Empire Builder train to Leavenworth, Washington to see the Christmas lighting ceremony the Bavarian-themed town performs each day to adoring crowds from around the region. Riding Amtrak provided a fun alternative to braving the mountain pass in a car. The return trip was a sightseeing adventure in its own right, the lanky pines bearing a heavy coat of fresh snow.

That said, the trip still left much to be desired. The biggest drawback: the train is slow. The return trip to Seattle was scheduled to take four hours and ended up taking almost five after a few track delays. On a good day, driving with no traffic takes 2 hours and 20 minutes. To me, it highlighted the need for passenger rail improvements and a long-term vision for a national network of high speed rail.
But, as the post demonstrates, there are parts of the national network that have more potential for high-speed trains (or simply diesel trains cruising at 125 or 140?) than others.  Here is an interactive map display with some possibilities for introducing such services.  (There are bits of it that look something like my German-inspired southeastern network.)  But perhaps one dimension of "Make America Great Again" is "Restore the Network and the Running Times of 1946?"

But coast to coast by rail?  That strikes me as a stretch.  Mr Trumm, also?
It’s harder to envision coast to coast high speed rail, at least without massive federal intervention. Connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas isn’t so daunting but from there its 748 miles to Denver and another 1,004 miles to Chicago. From Chicago it’s 697 miles to Washington, D.C. or 790 miles to New York City (via straighter interstate right-of-way.) That means LA to NYC would be about 2,800 miles of track and take 14 hours if an average speed of 200 miles per hour could be maintained. It’s not nearly as speedy as air travel but it might be only the only option many Americans can afford if rising fuel prices drives airline travel beyond their means. In addition to the flashy high speed rail between the big cities, more incremental improvements to Amtrak service to smaller cities would help a wider swath of America and feed into the high-speed mainline service.

At first, it’s likely that regional high speed networks will develop like the one that already slowly working its way to high speed in the Northeast and California’s network that’s under construction. However, the Federal government might eventually see the wisdom in connecting the regional high speed networks to build some sustainability into our transportation network. It’d probably make more financial sense than highway expansion. We can’t keep burning carbon forever.
As many of the rail lines are also intermodal corridors, doesn't it make sense to improve those tracks and provide capacity for container trains plus faster regional trains running more frequently. And connecting at places like Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.

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