Courtesy of Brightline Trains
From Texas to Florida, train travel is about to get a lot faster across the country.
It’s possible to get from Milan to Rome on the high-speed Frecciarossa train in under three hours and from Tokyo to Osaka on the Shinkansen bullet train in just two and a half hours. But getting between major cities in the United States has long been relegated to lengthy road trips or flights, while trains have remained a novelty for slow-travel enthusiasts who wish to stop and take in the views along the way.
But with a major overhaul of Amtrak’s Acela service in the Northeast Corridor coming up in 2021 and several major routes planned over the next decade, that’s all about to change. Here’s what’s next for high-speed train travel in the United States.
Portland to Vancouver
In July 2019, the Washington State Department of Transportation delivered a new report to lay out its case for building a high-speed rail line along the Cascadia Corridor that would connect Portland, Oregon, with Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
If completed with trains that could run at roughly 220 mph, the new line could cut the 5.5-hour drive time between Vancouver and Portland down to just under two hours and the three-hour drive between Seattle and Vancouver to under one hour. Getting between Portland and Seattle could also take less than an hour instead of over three hours in a car.
While Amtrak already operates its existing Cascades service along that corridor, it competes with freight and commuter trains that run on the same line, slowing down travel time significantly. Currently, it takes over eight hours to travel between Portland and Vancouver via Amtrak. The proposed plans recommend a brand new line to be built to eliminate those delays.
Las Vegas to Southern California
Privately owned rail company XpressWest has been planning since 2005 to build a high-speed train route that connects Las Vegas to Southern California in under two hours.
However, in September 2018, Virgin Trains USA (formerly known as Brightline Trains) acquired the project. That came after XpressWest struggled to raise money to break ground on the 185 miles of track connecting Las Vegas to Victorville, California, a city on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Virgin Trains inititally said construction on the all-electric train was scheduled to begin in 2019 with service expected to be operational by 2022. But as of July 2019, those dates have been pushed backed to 2020 and 2023, respectively.
Miami to Tampa
Rebranded as Virgin Trains USA after partnering with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, the privately owned Brightline high-speed trains started to run along Florida’s east coast in 2018, cutting the travel time between Miami and Fort Lauderdale to 30 minutes by train. The line also has a 60-minute route between Miami and West Palm Beach, which can take up to two hours by car, and is potentially adding another stop along the line in Boca Raton.
Those lines mostly are frequented by commuters at this point, but when the line expands to Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World in 2022, it is expected to cut the travel time between Miami and Orlando to three hours on trains traveling up to 125 miles per hour. The station in Orlando is nearly complete, but construction on the 170 miles of new track, which broke ground in June 2019, will take three years to finish.
The company also announced in April 2019 that it is pursuing plans to extend its route in Florida farther west from Orlando to Tampa.
Houston to Dallas
While ground hasn’t been broken yet on this project, the privately owned Texas Central Partners hopes to connect Dallas and Houston via a 90-minute high-speed route by 2024. (The drive currently takes between 3.5 to four hours in traffic.)
Texas Central has yet to raise the full amount of money it’ll take to build the approximately $12 billion project and still needs to secure land rights, but construction could begin in late 2019. Using an international version of the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet trains that operate between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, train service in Texas could go as fast as 200 mph.
San Francisco to Los Angeles
In February 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state would scale back California’s high-speed rail project that has been plagued with growing costs and political opposition. In response, the U.S. Transportation Department cancelled $929 million in grant funds for the project.
If the project had been completed, it would have cut the drive of six (or more) hours between San Francisco and Los Angeles to under three hours on trains traveling up to 220 miles per hour. (The current train route between the two cities takes more than 10 hours on Amtrak.)
Because construction on the first section in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Madera is already under way, Governor Newsom’s scaled-back version of the high-speed rail project initially was limited to 165 miles of track between Merced and Bakersfield. After that plan was received poorly, Governor Newsom said he would still like to open a longer line but admitted the state does not have the funds for it, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The project is currently in limbo.
This article originally appeared online on September 20, 2018; it was updated on July 24, 2019, to include current information.