Too often advocates complain about lack of progress on HSR; but we forget that this was driven by restrictive capacity caps that would not allow service expansion where over a hundred trains a day were running on the existing line. Where there are over a hundred trains a day, it's a safe bet that people will ride a high-speed line and justify the public's investment. Proposals in the US are made where current passenger service is minimal or non-existent.
The California situation is unique in that a gap in passenger service exists between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. The worst bottleneck preventing through service is at Tehachapi Pass where every day 50 or so freights toil up the grade and around slow curves on a single track. Yet there are sixteen daily train-bus services between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Six daily round trips are made between Northern California and Bakersfield with bus connections to Los Angeles; and another four daily round trips are made from San Diego to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo with bus connections to San Jose and Oakland and Caltrain connections at San Jose to San Francisco. The demand is there for a new line; and it doesn't cost that much more to be built to high speed standards as the Japanese and French realized with their ground-breaking high-speed lines.
I think the incremental approach taken in the Midwest is appropriate and works well. The $2 billion cost for CHI-STL for 110-mph operation for 9 round trips would be doubled for 150-mph while just doubling the number of trains and riders. This is still the slow way to Kansas City; but I see opportunities for expansion of services beyond Saint Louis to Tulsa and Memphis that will be more attractive with the 2-hr saving to Saint Louis.
The Midwest High Speed Rail Assn published a paper this week urging more long-distance trains based on the higher utilization and links between major and minor markets. I see the need for additional long-distance trains in the role as starters for regional corridor improvements, especially between the East Coast, Midwest, and Gulf.
The major sticking point is that railroads down-sized capacity in an era of decline with the building of the Interstate Highway System; and following deregulation have grown traffic beyond the bursting point to where a second or third main track has been restored or added. Railroads are reluctant to allow even one passenger train without substantial capacity improvement, even where added capacity may be needed for current and anticipated freight traffic. The reality is that most Amtrak long-distance trains average only around 50 mph overall with intermediate station stops; so they actually might slow intermodal trains rather than catch up! Railroads may argue the desire for a one-speed railroad; but that isn't realistic with the mix of intermodals, unit commodities, and restricted equipment such as empty bulkhead flatcars. Conversely, a slower passenger schedule might be a way to accommodate a rudimentary service expanding the network and accessibility.