Paul Weinstein of the Progressive Policy Institute (the DLC’s think tank) is a fellow train enthusiast and has put together an excellent policy report making the case for substantial investment aimed at creating several new high-speed rail corridors in those parts of the country where we have cities spaced the appropriate distance apart. California, where the state is moving ahead with HSR plans would seem to be the most-promising candidate at the moment though there are several other good options.
To anticipate the usual objections briefly: Yes it’s true that high-quality passenger rail networks in Europe are dependent on public subsidies. But driving and flying also depend for their viability on publicly subsidized infrastructure. What’s more there’s nothing wrong with that useful infrastructure projects ought to be subsidized. The question isn’t whether to subsidize things, it’s what to subsidize. And across a certain range of distances, HSR is speedier than flying. And because train travel is more pleasant and rail stations tend to be more centrally located than airports, trains are a better option even for trips where they’re slightly slower. If we had an appropriate rail network, not only could HSR-appropriate trips be accomplished more effectively (and in a more environmentally sound way) but it would allow our air travel network to focus its resources more tightly on the kind of trips for which flying really is the most appropriate solution.