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How America Lost High Speed Rail

Meeting Details:

Next meeting, Monday Sep 26th, 8pm (CST) Zoom:



  • Intro

  • Website Redesign

  • Headlines

  • Super Conducting Maglev


Faster Headlines

Wheels on Steel:

The Washington Post



The Texas Tribune

In the Tube:

New York Times

Up in the Air:

National Air & Space Museum

Has California High Speed Rail Project become too big to kill?

It appears that the California high-speed rail project is moving forward at full speed. Over the course of the summer, the California High-Speed Rail Authority made many announcements, including:

  • Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) clearance from San Francisco to San Jose

-> This means that all planning is now completed from San Francisco to Bakersfield

  • Draft EIS has been submitted from Palmdale to Burbank

-> This is the most expensive and complex part of the system due to mountains

  • Will now be a double track from Merced to Bakersfield, making this a true high-speed rail line

  • The whole project is now employing over 8,000 construction workers

  • The authority was Issued $4.2 billion in state financing

  • Some of the major rail viaducts are completed or nearly completed

  • Has applied for $1.3 billion in financing from the federal government from the Infrastructure Reinvestment and Jobs Act

  • Very little negative publicity about the project in the mainstream news

The point about the $1.3 Billion from the federal government is probably the most critical. If this funding is approved, this means the federal government is formally supporting the project (again) and willing to give money to high-speed rail projects (as opposed to the Trump Administration who tried to pull funding). Also, with so many active construction jobs politicians are now unlikely to kill the project, because they do not want to risk the negative publicity of eliminating so many jobs.

So the California project may just be at that point where it cannot be canceled. More importantly, it is looking very, very likely that high-speed rail is finally coming to the US! Operations are still at least 9 years away, but as the system comes together Americans will get more and more excited about the project and be asking the question “Why don’t we have this in my state?”


How the America Lost High Speed Rail: Part 1, High Speed Rail before the Shinkansen

America was built by the train. East of the Mississippi River the nation was blessed with natural lakes and rivers. This is why America’s first cities were Boston, New York, and New Orleans...then later St. Louis, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. Yes…Milwaukee. In fact, back when most people and freight moved by water Milwaukee was bigger than Chicago.

Then in the mid 1800’s the railroads spread across America…and more importantly America spread with the railroads. From turning Chicago from a small trading post to large trading center in mere decades....trains made American cities blossom . But then you had the transcontinental railroad built from Council Bluffs, Nebraska (just east of Omaha) across the plains and Rocky Mountains to California. It can be argued that the transcontinental railroad is the reason California and the west remained as part of the United States in the mid 1800s.

In fact in the late 1800’s/early 1900s the railroads became powerful monopolies making individuals such as Cornelius Vanderbilt one of the richest men in the world. In response to these railroad monopolies the federal government created the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act which now gave the government the ability to regulate routes, services and fares. This worked for several decades, but by the 1940’s the regulation became problematic. Unlike the railroads or airlines of today, the railroads couldn’t simply discontinue unprofitable service or raise prices and couldn’t just start new services. The railroads did try and compete for passengers with exceptional onboard service and faster trains, but then came the airliners…which took away the railroads most lucrative passengers…the business travelers. The loss of these passenger changed everything for the railroads.

As mentioned above the railroads couldn’t cut the services due to regulation. So instead, many of the railroads make their service so bad that no one would ride the trains…and only after ridership fell were the railroads able to discontinue passenger operations.

This cycle then led to old equipment, poor and unreliable service, and consolidation. Meanwhile the US was building out the interstates and airports and former rail passengers just took it upon themselves to purchase their own car or to fly. This eventually led to the formation of Amtrak and Conrail…but that is a subject for after the Shinkansen started

As the Baby Boomer generation watched trains die in the US.... in 1964, a new train on newly built tracks would leave Tokyo Station speeding towards Osaka at 125mph. At this time Americans still had plenty of trains that also ran at 125 mph, but Japan and the United States were about to take two very different routes when it came to the future of passenger trains.

Next week: Why the United States fell behind Japan in passenger rail


Bullet Train

(Review of the Train in the Movie, not the movie)

Movies have a great impact on Americans. Especially with the technology that is new. For example, if you ask most Americans about ocean liners, they might talk about the movie Titanic. Or if you ask about spacecraft, they might mention Star Wars or Star Trek. So, when it comes mentioning a Bullet Train, Americans will likely think about this movie.

But first a caveat – this is an evaluation of how Americans perceive the “Bullet Train” in the movie. Not how Americans perceive Central Japan Railways.

While the reviews were mixed to poor about the movie, none of the reviewers talk about the Bullet Train itself. Of course the train is completely made up, but they did use the N700S for both the exterior and interior. Then of course, within the train there are no quiet cars, bar/lounge cars, and the toilets are much simplier on the actual train, but for the first half of the movie the train is the star. The train is portrayed as futuristic, stylish, fast, and reliable and the connection to Thomas the Tank is both familiar and comical. Then from the made-up family car featuring the Momomon character, to the toilet, to reference to every stop being exactly 1 minute, to even the scene where the actors are flying outside of the train… the Bullet Train is very well portrayed as fast and futuristic…and one could even argue that Americans would fall in love with the train.

However, then near the end of the movie everything changes. As the train leaves Kyoto Station, the train is no longer a star of the movie. From the ability to hijack the train, to crashing into another train, to the train flying off the end of the track…to even the sight of broken trains cars…the movie was horrible. The critics also criticized the movie for the bad ending with the train crashing. But by this time in the movie the audience was no longer concerned with the train itself. Instead, the audience is more concerned with the characters Lemon, Tangerine, White Death, and the Father. However, everyone did survive the crash...which still kind of makes the train look good.

So overall, Bullet Train may have been good for Americans’ perception of the Shinkansen.However, it will be interesting to see if anything develops among the Comicon crowd or if Bullet Train becomes a cult classic.Unfortunately, this movie will be the way most Americans experience a Shinkansen…at least until Texas Central starts up again

Japan Rail Pass

The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wiscosin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high speed rail and high speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

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