Last week, an article in the Inquirer got us thinking about the idea of high-speed trains along the Northeast corridor, a concept we’ve pondered from time to time over the years. For many, the fact that we lack true high-speed trains in America is a source of some embarrassment, especially considering their apparent success in Europe and Asia. But for better or for worse, it seems that ours is a driving culture, and getting Americans to exchange their cars for train tickets is much easier said than done.

30th Street Station

Still, efforts have been taking place, both from Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), to consider options for new high-speed train service on the Northeast corridor (NEC). In 2010, Amtrak released a report entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor, which details reasons that the NEC needs new rail service in the coming decades, and suggests an approach to make it a reality. More recently, the FRA released a Preliminary Alternatives Report that was mentioned in the Inquirer story, which studies different alternatives for improving rail travel in the northeast. It attempts to rate the different alternatives based on their relative magnitude of impact in terms of quality of service, level of investment, trip time improvement, and several other metrics. The hope is that the FRA and the administration will select one of the alternatives by the middle of 2015.

Options presented in the plan range from minor infrastructure improvements to a new high-speed line running mostly parallel to the existing tracks to a new high-speed line running through Long Island and central Connecticut. Costs range from extremely high to incredibly high to unimaginatively high as you go along. (Click to zoom in on images below, taken from the FRA Report)

Minor improvements would improve service

But a new high-speed track would be pretty cool

This just seems crazy

Amtrak suggested a cost of over $100 billion dollars for high speed trains in the NEC, and we’re guessing it would be even more expensive. Such a project would clearly be really cool and a source of regional and perhaps even national pride. It’s also certain that it would have numerous positive economic benefits, like all the jobs created by a two-decade-long construction project, faster travel times between crucial business hubs, and ostensibly cleaner travel than by car or plane.

But would it be enough? Is this the sort of investment that would ever pay itself off? Will gas prices and air travel prices continue to rise to the point that train travel will become the more attractive alternative for many more people in the decades to come? These are questions that experts and consultants are paid handsomely to try to figure out- we just hope that whatever conclusion they come to is the right one.

On this date in 2040, we hope to see you all on the 11:00 train from Philly to New York, arriving at 11:39, give or take thirty seconds. By that point, we’re guessing the ticket price will be somewhere in the $400 range. Not too shabby, eh?