Let’s admit it—we’re all jealous of Japan’s lightning-fast bullet-trains. So, for the sake of regional connectivity, increased use of public transportation and technological awesomeness, what we need in the U.S. are some amped up rail lines. While the Penn Design Group has pitched a $100 billion, federally-funded high-speed rail update in New England that would reduce the time between Boston and Washington, D.C. to a mere three hours, General Electric has developed new logistical software for the freight industry that offers a cost-effective, private-sector solution to an impending rail-capacity crisis.
In a way, high-speed trains are the charismatic megafauna of public transportation policy—they’re more fun to ride than a bus, provide hundreds of local jobs, and look sleekly European. They are also—expectedly—lambasted for their high price tags. At $100 billion, the Penn Design Group’s proposal is one such prohibitively expensive project. The plan, which envisions a bypass around Wilmington, Delaware, and a 20-mile tunnel under Long Island Sound, would potentially increase train speeds to 155 mph and triple the Northeast Corridor’s ridership. The Transport Politic points out other massive setbacks for such an ambitious overhaul: The existing transportation infrastructure needs some serious repair and the federal government has to fairly disperse funds around the country.
If an expanded, country-wide network of high-speed rail is at the forefront of the American conversation about train infrastructure, then upgrades to our heavy freight lines are dangling from the caboose. Despite being the weathered face of the rail industry, freight trains and their infrastructure have a ready capacity to save time, money, and resources. Progressive Railroading reports that General Electric recently implemented traffic-control software called RailEdge on a 200-mile stretch of the Norfolk Southern Railway in Georgia. So far it has increased rail efficiency and capacity and raised the speed of the trains by two to four mph. I know what you're thinking: A paltry two to four miles per hour? What an mediocre triumph. However, Norfolk Southern has found that even “a one-mile-per-hour increase in train speed potentially can save about $200 million annually in capital and expenses.” GE’s transportation president and CEO Lorenzo Simonelli says new software like RailEdge can globally boost rail capacity “without laying a single new track.”