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. Meanwhile, 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 want to stop and take in the views along the way.
But with a complete overhaul of Amtrak’s Acela fleet in the Northeast Corridor coming up in late 2024, 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.
1. Portland to Vancouver
In July 2019, the Washington State Department of Transportation delivered a 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. A new bill introduced by the Oregon Legislature in 2023 would require the line to be extended to Eugene, Oregon, if passed.
If completed, the trains will run at a top speed of 250 miles per hour. The new line will cut the 5.5-hour drive time between Vancouver and Portland down to 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. It currently takes over eight hours to travel between Portland and Vancouver via Amtrak. The proposed plans would ensure the construction of a new passenger line to eliminate those delays.
2. Las Vegas to Southern California
Privately owned rail company XpressWest has planned since 2005 to build a high-speed train route that connects Las Vegas to Southern California in under two hours.
However, in September 2018, Brightline West acquired the project 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. There are plans to extend the line to the Metrolink station in Rancho Cucamonga so that passengers can get to Brightline West without theoretically ever using a car.
Brightline West announced in February 2023 that it has struck a deal with the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition to begin work on the line later this year. The $10 billion effort is expected to generate 35,000 jobs. Brightline West is projected to begin operations in 2027.
3. Miami to Tampa
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.
As of September 2023, Brightline now offers service from five south Florida stations—Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach—to the country’s theme park capital, Orlando. Brightline will continue expanding its route with a station eventually coming to Tampa, Florida.
4. Houston to Dallas
Privately owned Texas Central Partners has hoped to build a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston since 2014. Due to issues over eminent domain, the plans were put indefinitely on hold, until a few days ago in early August 2023, when the company announced that it’s in talks with Amtrak to build the railway. Amtrak says the train would prevent 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being emitted per year and take 12,500 cars off the interstate per day. Texas Central Partners is planning to use 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.
“This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology, has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” said Texas Central CEO Michael Bui in a statement.
The proposed 240-mile route would make it possible to move between Houston and Dallas (two of the top five major cities in the United States) in 90 minutes—the trip currently takes a little under 3.5 hours by car. The company has not yet announced when construction or service will begin.
5. San Francisco to Los Angeles
California’s proposed high-speed rail line, which is supposed to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco, has been plagued by problems, from growing costs to political opposition. In February 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state would scale back California’s high-speed rail project, and in turn, the U.S. Transportation Department canceled $929 million in grant funds for the project. Executives say there isn’t enough money to complete the project—$9.8 billion has already been spent.
Initially proposed in 2008, the current project, despite its speed bumps, is still underway: 119 miles are currently under construction in the Central Valley between Bakersfield and Madera and 422 miles of the 500 needed to complete the railway have been environmentally cleared.
A completion date for the high-speed rail has not been set yet, but if and when it’s completed, it will 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.)
Mae Hamilton contributed reporting to this article. This article originally appeared online in 2018; it was updated most recently on November 15, 2023, to include current information.