Thursday, June 30, 2011

Interesting Rail Comparison

While I love the idea of high-speed rail in the US, especially having experienced how comfortable and convenient it can be while traveling in Europe and Japan, I've always been a little skeptical as to how practical it is in the US given our relatively low population density. Outside of California and the corridor from DC to Boston, our country is so sparsely populated that I'm not sure rail can be viable. But a recent email from the Midwest Highspeed Rail Association doing a comparison between a hypothetical Chicago-NY route and a recently opened route in China is certainly intriguing in addressing this point:

At 3:00 PM on Thursday, the first revenue train departed Shanghai on the much anticipated high-speed rail line to Beijing, connecting the political and business centers of the country. The line is expected to have a transformative impact on China's economy, population mobility, and over-crowded transportation system. Shanghai - Beijing is comparable to Chicago - New York.

Click here to see some pictures of the new Beijing-Shanghai train.

The new Beijing to Shanghai route will offer a mix of express and local trains totaling an expected 90 trains a day in each direction. The fastest trains make the trip in 4 hours 48 minutes. Imagine traveling from Chicago to New York City in that time! (It currently takes 5 hours to get from Chicago's Loop to Manhattan by air today, IF everything goes right at two delay-prone airports and on two very congested highsways.)

Below is an interesting comparison of the Beijing - Shanghai route and a hypothetical Chicago - New York high-speed route.

(***A note: We used the existing railroad mileage between Chicago and New York; a high-speed line would likely be much shorter.)

Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway stations serviced and their county-level city or district populations:

13.3 million
0.7 million
3.8 million
0.5 million
0.4 million
2 million
0.6 million
0.1 million
0.5 million
1.8 million
0.2 million
1.1 million
0.1 million
3 million
0.6 million
1 million
1.1 million
1 million
0.7 million
19 million
TOTAL=51.5 million people

= along 818 miles
(62,958 people per route-mile)

Then, consider:

Midwest-Northeast (Chicago-New York + branches to Detroit and Washington DC) high-speed railway potential stations and their consolidated metropolitan area populations:

Chicago9.7 million
Fort Wayne0.6 million
Toledo0.7 million
Detroit5.7 million
Cleveland2.3 million
Akron-Canton1.1 million
0.7 million
Pittsburgh2.9 million
Altoona0.1 million
Harrisburg0.5 million
Baltimore2.7 million
Washington DC5.4 million
Philadelphia5.8 million
New York22.2 million
TOTAL =60.4 million people

= along 1,075 miles
(56,186 people per route-mile)

The strikingly similar population densities along the similar length routes makes one wonder: Why haven't we done this yet???

If you haven't already emailed your public officials to ask them to fund high-speed rail in the United States, you can ask them by clicking here!