Technology See Inside Revolutionary Rail: High-Speed Rail Plan Will Bring Fast Trains to the U.S. The next wave of high-speed rail lines should do away with the rails altogether, say proponents of magnetic levitation technology By Stuart F. Brown COURSETY OF CALIFORNIA HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY America is an absurdly backward country when it comes to passenger trains. As anyone who has visited Europe, Japan or Shanghai knows, trains that travel at nearly 200 miles per hour have become integral to the economies of many countries. With its celebrated Tokaido Shinkansen bullet trains, Central Japan Railway has for the past five decades carried billions of passengers between Tokyo and Osaka in half the time it would take to fly. A new Madrid-to-Barcelona express train runs at an average speed of 150 miles per hour; since its inception two years ago, airline traffic between the two cities has dropped by 40 percent. In contrast, Amtrak’s showcase Acela train connecting Boston to Washington, D.C., averages just 70 mph. That figure is so low because many sections of the Acela’s tracks cannot safely support high speeds, even though the train itself is capable of sprints above 150 mph. Think of it as a Ferrari sputtering down a rutted country lane. There has been a recent push to change all this. Earlier this year the Department of Transportation announced the recipients of $8 billion in stimulus funding designed to spread high-speed rail across the U.S. The 2010 federal budget requests an additional $1 billion in rail construction funds in each of the next five years. And in 2008 California voters approved a $9-billion bond measure to initiate an ambitious high-speed rail network that would connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and, eventually, Sacramento and San Diego. This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2013 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.