Trains can be a great form of public transportation. However, public transportation is simply horrible in many areas of the U.S. There are many reasons why that is, including poor maintenance, low funding, and ultimately, a small ridership (which is often due to the first two reasons). That has allowed other countries, like China, to create trains that are far faster than what American railways can achieve, but that could change eventually.
Why trains can be great
Trains, like other forms of public transportation, are great for a lot of reasons. They allow a lot of people to move around the city with a small physical footprint. Not only that, but well-run trains are very affordable, and they do something essential for the average rider’s wallet. If public transportation goes all the places you want to go to, and if the fares are fair, there’s little reason to own a car.
Owning a car can be pretty expensive, and if trains are cheap and available everywhere, folks can save a lot of money on gas, insurance, and maintenance. Unfortunately, while trains used to dominate the U.S., the country has been built around the car in the last few decades. Trains and other forms of public transit are only a good idea in a few places, like New York City and San Francisco. Elsewhere in the U.S., they’re underfunded and lack an expansive network of stations and stops.
How China is beating the U.S. with trains
Since New York City and its surrounding areas already love trains, it’s naturally the host of the fastest train in America. As CBS News said, Acela, as the high-speed rail service is called, tops out at about 160 mph. That’s a 10 mph increase over the last version of the train. Acela can be a great service for folks who need to travel between Boston and Washington D.C., but that’s the only high-speed rail operating in the U.S. right now.
On the other hand, according to The Drive, China has claimed to have built the fastest train in the world. It’s called the CRRC 600, and it tops out at about 373 mph. That’s over twice as fast as the new Acela models can go. On top of that, thanks to its high speed, China’s new train even beats out air travel.
With that being said, there’s a huge difference between Acela and the CRRC 600. The CRRC 600 is a maglev, which means that it’s using magnets to levitate itself. Acela, meanwhile, is a more traditional train. Due to that, Acela will never go as fast as the CRRC 600 or any other maglevs can go.
How the U.S. is planning on competing
While China is miles ahead of the U.S. as far as trains go, that may change eventually. President Biden is a well-known fan of trains. As such, the Department of Transportation may be looking at improving train service across the U.S. soon. That being said, the U.S. currently has no maglev trains, and there aren’t any major proposals to change that.
However, while negotiations are ongoing, Biden’s infrastructure bill asks for billions in Amtrak funding. According to Slate, one of the current proposals includes about $66 billion in funding for Amtrak. While that proposal may or may not change in the future, that $66 billion would help shore up high-speed rail projects on the east coast and the west coast. For example, California is slowly building its own high-speed rail on the west coast to eventually link San Francisco to LA. However, while these trains would be fast, they likely wouldn’t be faster than that Chinese maglev.