High-Speed Rail vs. Higher-Speed Rail

In the new issue of The Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman makes a strong case that America doesn't need high-speed rail so much as higher-speed rail that arrives on time and at more frequent intervals. Here's the crux of his argument:

Increasing speeds on the slowest segments of the line would do as much or more to shorten travel times as making the fastest speeds faster, and wouldn’t require an expensive new right-of-way or new equipment.

Longman uses Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service as an example and points out that even though it's not particular fast, on average, it's as fast, if not faster, than driving or flying between cities like Philadelphia and New York. For longer distance trips, i.e. traveling between Boston and New York, it's not comparable, but that doesn't matter. The entire route still fills up with people traveling between places like Baltimore and Trenton or New York and Providence. Longman's point is that we could build similar systems on Midwestern routes like St. Paul-Chicago or Pittsburgh-Cleveland-Chicago.

But these are exactly the sort of projects that Republican governors have snubbed for political reasons. To them, high-speed or higher-speed rail is all the same.

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