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San Francisco to Las Vegas in 5 Hours by Train? A Map for a National High-Speed Rail System

| February 7, 2013
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A Berkeley designer’s concept for a national high-speed rail system is earning national attention this week.

Alfred Twu posted a map online Sunday showing high-speed rail lines connecting San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Miami and Dallas. The map is receiving news coverage in some of the cities it lists, including Austin, Texas and Denver, Colo.

Twu talked about his motivation for creating the map in a post Wednesday for The Guardian. He wrote that his map is “a composite of several proposed maps from 2009, when government agencies and advocacy groups were talking big about rebuilding America’s train system.”

“Given how much my map got people talking and dreaming, I am more convinced than ever that there is public support and demand for a true high speed rail network,” he wrote.

There certainly might be some demand for high-speed rail in the Bay Area, which has the second-worst traffic in the country, according to a recent study. Twu’s map shows a system that could take passengers from San Francisco to Las Vegas in about five hours. A trip from San Francisco to New York City would take about 20 hours.

However, California’s planned high-speed rail system would need to be completed before Twu’s map becomes a reality. The system has yet to be constructed, and it has faced legal challenges from Central Valley farmers.

Here’s Twu’s vision for a national high-speed rail system. Click the image to see a larger version.

Map by Alfred Twu

Map by Alfred Twu

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Category: Transportation

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  • Ryan Ng

    Cool. How many hours will it take to go across New York? Hmm… looks like a 3-hour trip.

  • joe g

    This map has at least one major flaw in that Washington D.C. is not directly connected to any city not in the Northeast corridor. That is a huge mistake

    • shamelessly

      Gotta start somewhere! As a San Franciscan, I’d have to route through L.A. to go almost anywhere on this map. But I’m content to wait to build more direct connections between more cities until after we have the network illustrated above fully built out and running!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=767718970 Alex Major

      You can thank the West Virginia hills for that

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1223791121 Kyrie Eiras-Saunders

        yet another reason West Virginia sucks.

  • Sierrajeff

    Love the concept. I think the red line should go up through SLC and then connect with Reno (and California), not proceed southwest to Vegas. And a little over-emphasis, perhaps, on some of the rust-belt cities… that zig-zaggy white line in particular seems a little forced in the Great Lakes region.

  • Aaron Priven

    If I were going to create an HSR pipe dream, I would start with city-pairs of large cities where HSR would likely be time-competitive with air. This does not do that.

    • Chris Davis

      Exactly. Bicycles within neighborhoods, cars for short trips, fast rail for regional (250 miles or less) travel between large cities, and air for 250-plus miles. High speed rail works for San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, Los Angeles-Anaheim-San Diego, Seattle-Portland, etc.

  • TPaine

    They like to quote the cost of constructing the rails…which is nothing compared with the cost of the land…even at the costs they steal it at.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DanielSong39 Daniel Song

    I think the sliver from Washington to Boston will get built; not sure about the other portions.

  • Alex

    Alfred drew lines between cities in the U.S., great job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.conti2 Bill Conti

    First of all, travel by train was far more accessible to many more areas of this country before most of the routes were closed or dismantled. Some of those right-of-ways may still be viable and some were sold off. Secondly, American “exceptionalism” took a back seat to countries like Japan, France, and now China and Taiwan when it comes to high speed rail and other areas of infrastructure a long time ago. For example, while Los Angeies was arguing over where to build its subway system, including the Westside extension (past 20 years), China built entire subway systems in several of its major cities. Japan doesn’t just have high-speed (“bullet trains”) rail service but it also enjoys meaningfully-expedient train service throughout most of the nation. Just one other issue with regard to where to find the money to build these “drawing board” systems, the freeways in Japan and Taiwan look like they are swept regularly. Japan may be in debt but it seems to get on with the essentials. Meanwhile, the freeways in LA are littered with huge amounts of debris and trash including tires, hubcaps, diapers strewn in the bushes, paper and trash bags. Most of it has laid there for months and years on end because, frankly, there are no plans to remove it because there is reportedly no money to do so. So people have apparently resigned themselves to driving past it every day, either in resigned acceptance or denial.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DoctorDoctrine Peter Zacharoff

    Hello, I have a NEW PLAN for avoiding FARMS for the California High Speed Rail. My alternative proposal is FASTER, CHEAPER, and SAFER! http://www.youtube.com/user/PeterZacharoff?feature=mhee

  • Chris Davis

    Most of the reaches on this map make no sense for rail service. Anything beyond 250 miles is faster and cheaper by air for which we already have the infrastructure. Yes the Bay Area has terrible traffic and high speed trains that encircle it would alleviate that to a certain extent, but that is strictly regional. Having a train to LA (or worse yet Portland?!) does nothing to affect that. Running track to Tijuana and Juarez is on an entirely different level bad idea.

  • Mark Henderson

    This is a great start! Would love to see the Vancouver-Anaheim section come to fruition!

  • Michael M.

    Big, big fan of HSR. I love to fly but I would really love relaxing and working or socializing in comfort over the same 12 hours it takes to get to the airport, do security, board, wait, fly and do similar at the other end for a coast to coast trip. Also, development follows rails so modern settlements will grow up along routes, distributing population in an organic and logical way. I would love to live in the Central Valley (CA) if I could get to LA quickly.
    I’m also confident that there isn’t a mass transportation system on the planet that isn’t subsidized, so gov’t subsidy is fine with me. For those opposed to this, I remind that roads and airports are heavily subsidized.
    Bill Conti: Interesting comments.
    Michael M.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Agassi/100000826141757 Peter Agassi

    America needs to install high speed rail and catch up with other civilized nations who already have the luxury of high speed rail. Thanks to the backward thinking stupidity of Republicans, we are held back from progress and new technologies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Agassi/100000826141757 Peter Agassi

    Some stupid Republican said, “Why do we need rail when we have cars?” The point is that rail curbs pollution that cars cause. It’s better for the environment and for convenience. Too bad republicans are too brain dead to notice this.

  • Rob Anderson

    Only the progressive obsession with bicycles is dumber than the obsession with high-speed rail. All of these comments are completely fact-free. None of the commenters reflects on the fact that passenger rail is no longer commercially viable, which is why Warren Buffett is invested in freight rail, not passenger rail. The country’s taxpayers are already paying more than a billion dollars a year to subsidize Amtrak. The pricetag on a national high-speed rail wouldn’t make any sense; jet planes will always be a better buy for anyone crossing the country. You folks need a good dose of fact-based analysis of this fantasy, which you can find here: http://www.cc-hsr.org/financialReports.html

    • jncc

      Perhaps you should run for elected office and share your views.

      • Rob Anderson

        You mean elected officials have some kind of automatic credibility? Perhaps you should check out the views of the critics I link. They’ve done a number of thorough analyses of every aspect of this project.

    • ahblid

      Rob,

      Transportation, at least when it comes to moving people, is no longer viable. We subsidize all forms of transportation, save maybe horseback riding. Collectively the airlines over the last 40 years have lost Billions. This despite massive annual Federal subsidies (about $3 Billion last year), local airport subsidies, grants & interest free loans after 9/11, as well as many indirect subsidies.

      We drivers don’t come close to paying for our roads & highways via the fuel taxes and other direct fees. In fact, we only manage to cover 51% of the costs of our highways; even less for the local streets.

      You mention that we taxpayers are paying over a Billion a year to Amtrak. And you are correct! However, according to the taxpayer’s receipt for 2009, a married couple with 2 kids and $80K watched $3.83 of their Federal Income tax dollars go to Amtrak. That same couple saw $110.06 of their Federal income taxes go into highways. A retired couple with $100K in income saw $3.11 go to Amtrak and $89.38 go to the highways, even if they can no longer drive a car.

      In other words, American’s wanting lower taxes should get out of their car and onto an Amtrak train.

      As for that “fact based analysis” that you linked to, I started with the first report about operating subsidies. The authors threw around all these wonderful sounding numbers and such. But one thing that caught my eye in the limited time I had to scan things, is their discussion of fares and just how much California will be able to charge.

      They say that CAHSR expects a fare around $100, but the authors claim that they won’t even be able to get that here in the US and that it will be lower. They cite all these sources from other countries, but somehow failed to note that Amtrak’s HS Acela, which turns an operating profit by the way, has an average fare of $149 per rider. And that number is brought down by the cheaper prices between NY & Boston, unlike NY & DC where the average fare is higher. But even NY to Boston, the cheapest fare one can get is still $107 and prices go up from there based upon demand.

      • Rob Anderson

        The folks at the link I provided analyze every aspect of the CHSR project, including fares and the projected number of passengers. Both numbers are crucial to show that the project makes sense. The CHSR Authority has had trouble bringing either number into any relation with reality, which means the whole project is based on false assumptions. If the projected fare to get from LA to SF is $100, of course the number of passengers will be smaller, since flying is both cheaper and faster than the projected 2 hours and 40 minutes—another number that is doubtful. Not to mention the estimated cost, which has soared since state voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008. You mention the Acela Amtrak line, but that’s the only Amtrak line that makes any money, because it’s in the most densely populated part of the country.

        • ahblid

          Rob,

          Clearly if the authors overlooked a HSR train already in this country, they did NOT analyze everything. I do concede that CHSR hasn’t done a very good job at explaining a lot of things, but that doesn’t change the fact that the authors of your study either ignored or failed to properly research HSR in this country.

          Next, flying is only faster if one looks only at flight times. Throw in getting out of town to the airport and back in, and throw in time to clear security, and it equalizes things. This is what drives the market share to Amtrak’s Acela, where Amtrak now owns 77% of the air/rail market between NY & DC.

          Additionally, please keep in mind that the train, unlike the train doesn’t just serve the 2 end point cities. It picks up and discharges passengers along the way, providing far more service to many more people than that flight from LA to SF could ever hope to serve.

          Finally, Acela isn’t the only line that makes any money. Amtrak’s Lynchburg train that operates between tiny Lynchburg, VA population of 76,504 and DC turned a $3.7 Million operating profit this past fiscal year. This train also makes stops at Charlottesville, VA population 43,511; Culpepper 16,662, Manassas 39,300; Burke Center 17,326; and Alexandria which is the largest with 144,301. And the last 3 stops are also served by the much cheaper and more frequent VRE commuter rail service.

          The combined populations of the cities that CHSR will serve comes very close to that of the major cities served by Acela in the NE. And as shown above, one doesn’t actually need massive population densities to cover operating costs.

          • Rob Anderson

            Okay, you’ve cited two Amtrak lines in the country that are supposedly covering operating costs, but what about the rest of the country? And why would anyone but a tourist or someone on vacation take a train from the east coast to the west coast? CHSRA is charged by law with making the trip between LA and SF by two hours and 40 minutes. Even if that’s remotely plausible, flying between those cities is much much faster, even accounting for the time getting to and from the airport, not to mention the fact that people will also have to get to and from train terminals.

            The CHSR project has changed so much since voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008 that it should go back on the ballot, which is what the courts will probably end up ordering. And there’s this: even if the project is built, Prop. 1A prohibits any tax-payer subsidy to operate it. According to that ballot proposition, the system is supposed to be paid for by its users.

            The best place to find a serious analysis of the whole ill-conceived CHSR project is here: https://www.sites.google.com/site/hsrcaliffr/home/brief-notes/2011-brief-notes