In the State of the Union address, Barack Obama called attention to the oddity that a proud and wealthy nation such as our own is such a laggard in basic passenger train technology:
Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.
Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help move our nation’s goods, services, and information.
In that context, it’s worth noting that the new high-speed rail initiative the administration was touting today in Florida will still leave China and Europe with much faster trains. They’re anticipating this Central Florida rail corridor to operate at a maximum speed of 168 miles per hour. The Lorraine-Champagne TGV line in France goes 173 miles per hour on average with a maximum speed of about 200 miles per hour. The Shanghai maglev has a max speed of around 270 miles per hour.
Of course, speed isn’t everything. Britain and France built the world’s fastest commercial passenger jet and nowadays nobody uses it because it turns out to be totally uneconomical. What’s wanted is transportation infrastructure that meets a reasonable balance of needs, not just bragging rights.