VOA Special English TV: High-Speed Trains May Be Coming to the USA

People in Europe and Asia have enjoyed high-speed trains for years. This Japanese train set a speed record of 581 kilometers an hour. Yet the fastest American train reaches less than half that speed. It operates only between Washington and Boston. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says changes are coming to American trains.

RAY LAHOOD: The day will come when you can see travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours going 220 miles per hour.

Work on a high-speed train could start in California in two years. Conditions might be right for such a train. President Obama has announced plans to spend eight billion dollars to develop high-speed railroads. John Risch is with the countrys largest labor union for railroad workers.

JOHN RISCH: In California alone, it is estimated that 160,000 construction jobs would be created just to build those two high-speed rail corridors.

The federal project will develop 13 high-speed rail links. Steve Kulm works for Amtrak, the passenger railroad company. He says only the links in California and Florida will truly be high-speed.

STEVE KULM: There is a difference between, you know, high-speed in Europe and Asia and high-speed in America. In Europe and Asia, they are dedicated tracks where only high-speed trains operate on. Here in America, our passenger trains share tracks with slower freight trains.

Most of the money will go to improve service on slower trains and existing transportation. Kulm says Amtraks fastest train is already competing with airline companies.

STEVE KULM: Before, between Washington and New York, the passenger train only had about 37 percent of the market. Today, Amtrak has 61 percent of the market compared to air flights. Same thing that happened on the north end of the corridor, between New York and Boston.

Environmental groups have praised the project. Howard Lerner is head of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

HOWARD LERNER: On a per passenger-mile basis, rail is about three times as efficient as travel by car, in terms of fuel efficiency, and six times as efficient as travel by air. So there are pretty substantial pollution reduction benefits, both in terms of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

John Risch of the United Transportation Union has other reasons.

JOHN RISCH: Passenger trains are the safest form of transportation available with the exception of the elevator. Trains are fuel efficient, they relieve highway and airport congestion, and they also reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making trains — passenger trains — the safer, cleaner, greener transportation option.

Critics say the federal money will start many small projects, but not finish them. Supporters of the plan say it will lead to a new form of public transportation in the United States. Im Doug Johnson.