High-Speed Rail Races to the USA?

Despite speed bumps, President Obama is trying to pull our railway system into the 21st century.

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U.S. High Speed Rail Association

When a high-speed rail train crashed in eastern China last month, questions arose about their safety. Many wondered aloud if the bullet trains should be brought to the United States.

Sen. Malcolm A. Smith (D-N.Y.) was the recipient of a number of those questions through phone calls and emails, he recently told The Root. He, like President Barack Obama, is an ardent proponent of the energy-efficient electric trains.

"It gets everyone's attention whenever there is an accident regarding new technology," he says. "It wasn't a design flaw that caused it. The accident was the result of the lack of someone doing their job."

Still, Chinese government officials recently announced the suspension of approvals for new rail projects and plans to conduct safety checks on existing lines following the deadly crash on July 23, according to Xinhua. They also called for newly built high-speed rails to run at slower speeds.

While keeping an eye on China's systems, U.S. lawmakers, like Smith, are hopeful for the future of the trains in America. Projects are on the drawing board in states including New York, Massachusetts and Illinois. Some of the trains can travel up to 220 mph, which could transform interstate travel in the U.S. and enable commuting over longer distances.

The energy-efficient trains, which are electrical, would also create green-economy jobs through the construction of rail systems and the manufacturing of new trains, according to Thomas Hart, vice president of government affairs and general counsel of the Washington-based U.S. High Speed Rail Association.

Additionally, the trains would pay for themselves by significantly reducing the nation's $700 billion-a-year oil-purchase trade deficit, says the nonprofit advocacy group, which is sponsoring a high-speed rail conference in November in New York.

"They simply lessen the carbon footprint," Hart said of bullet trains in an interview with The Root. "Airlines use 10 times more power and they use oil. Cars are not energy efficient at all. And then you have buses, which are a little better than cars and planes. But high-speed rail systems are powered exclusively by electricity. It's important that we start paying attention to the environment."

While statistics are scarce on African-American rail ridership, Amtrak is projecting for the first time that its overall annual ridership will exceed 30 million passengers nationwide, setting an all-time record when the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, according to a recent news release. Consumer reaction to high gasoline prices is one of the factors attributed to the projection, which is based on strong June ridership numbers and expected ticket sales for July, the Amtrak release says.

More than a decade ago, Amtrak introduced high-speed trains to the U.S. under its Acela Northeast corridor service. But the electric trains, which can reach a top speed of 150 mph, only average 70 mph on the route between New York and Washington because of track limitations and congestion. Amtrak is seeking approval for funding from Congress to make badly needed track improvements, upgrades and expansions to its Acela trains, reports the Business Alliance for Northeast Mobility.

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