The rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C. is Amtrak’s most profitable, but it’s badly bottlenecked, thanks to the zillions of rail agencies offering service on the 457-mile Northeast Corridor. Service improvements along the NEC might also be the most viable and necessary in the country. Upgrades to the Acela line, which tops out at 150 mph, are happening little by little.Sorry, no, the operating surplus on the Corridor is another Washington gimmick. But when there's a complete ticket check departing The Pennsylvania Station on Washington-Boston trains, just as if The Pennsylvania Railroad were still handing trains off to the New Haven, something's wrong.
The regional services radiating (but not connecting) out of Chicago merit mention.
New crossings, bridges, stations, and rail upgrades should push corridor speeds to 110 mph—again, not true high-speed, but a lot better than the current 79 mph service. (There’s a theme here; outside of California, the U.S. might never see 200-mph-and-up trains like those in Europe and Asia. You need new tracks to do that, and there’s just not enough federal money, or will, to build them.)It's more precise to say restoring the Depression-era routings and speeds, but I will continue to maintain that's OK. Do the math: speeding a train up from 79 mph to 110 mph or 125 mph cruising speeds buys a few minutes; to buy an additional increment of the same minutes gets you into the 200 mph electrified trains. At the margin, that's not a good bargain.
There’s good reason to expect that the state could keep funding rail improvements on spokes to other cities—namely, Detroit. Michigan is also supplementing a big hunk of federal change with tens of millions in state funds to improve rail connections within the state and to Chicago. Ohio and Wisconsin governors John Kasich and Scott Walker may have turned down federal high-speed rail funds for their states, but Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri seem to be starting the Midwest’s engine on a legitimate 21st-century rail network.