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Transportation

Faster Rail Service Is Coming to America—Slowly

It’s not “high speed,” exactly. But a mix of privately funded rail projects and improvements to existing Amtrak lines are finally starting to get American trains moving.
Faster trains are coming... slowly.
Faster trains are coming... slowly.Joshua Lott/Reuters

There’s a long and distinguished conservative tradition of hating on passenger rail projects, mainly because of the massive federal expenses they tend to incur. Republicans vigorously fought President Obama’s $8 billion pledge to power high-speed intra-city lines back in 2009 (alongside Vice President “Amtrak Joe” Biden, of course), and blocked his plans to fund road, bridge, and rail projects with a $478 billion infrastructure bill in 2015. (A whittled-down, $305 billion version passed later that year.)

Will Donald Trump be more sympathetic to trains than the average Republican? Possibly. The President-elect has compared America’s railroads to those of third-world countries and made envious references to Chinese bullet trains: "They have trains that go 300 miles per hour," he said in March. "We have trains that go chug-chug-chug." As a New York City developer, he also knows how rail connections can anchor serious real estate investments. His much-touted $1 trillion infrastructure plan hinges on leveraging big chunks of private lucre with very small amounts of public cash—the sort of financing scheme that could actually work for a rail project along a dense, inter-city corridor with lots of development opportunities. (What does his nominated DOT secretary, Elaine Chao, think about rail? Who knows?)