Getting on the Train

Given emerging data in 2012, it's becoming increasingly clear that the post-war automobile era in the United States is now in well-articulated decline. Accordingly, it makes sense to note the beginning of a long-term supertrend that is just getting started: the resurrection of America’s rail system.

At Seattle’s historic King Street Station (a classic example of early 20th Century railroad architecture), a nasty looking dropped-tile ceiling – which hung above travellers for decades – was removed late last year to reveal ornate plasterwork as the building undergoes extensive renovation. These cosmetic (and structural) alterations are part of a wide-ranging upgrade to the entire Cascades passenger rail service that runs from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Eugene, Oregon.

In Tacoma, for example, a new station will either be built or renovated, and part of the Cascades line will be re-routed from its current shoreline path more directly through that city. Elsewhere, bridges are being rebuilt, track is being upgraded, and other infrastructure improvements are underway as part of the $500 million program to resurrect more efficient, faster inter-city rail in the 466-mile Amtrak route through this part of the Pacific Northwest.

These changes will not bring European-style high-speed rail to the United States. Indeed, in many similar projects across the country, top speeds of 125 mph will characterize new system capability, rather than the average speed actually maintained from city to city. However, the incremental improvements now underway will become the platform for the next phase of investment, as Americans are increasingly persuaded to limit their car ownership and make rail transport part of their lives once again.

What America Lost

Up until World War II, rail transport of all kinds – intercity, light rail, and commuter rail – dominated transportation in America. Los Angeles had the largest light-rail system in the entire world, connecting the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, and San Bernardino County to central L.A. and the northern reaches of Orange County. As the old saying goes, however, the car killed America. And the following 40 years from 1945-1985 saw a relentless decline of all forms of rail in the United States.

To get a sense of what the country lost as it eagerly built out a vast highway infrastructure and foolishly stopped investing in rail, let's look at two historical maps showing a veritable collapse of passenger route miles over just a ten year period. The first map shows that in 1962 intercity passenger rail network still covered 88,710 route miles.

Just ten years later, however, with intrusive highways bisecting American cities and ruining the integrity of their downtowns, the number of passenger route miles had collapsed by over 75%(!), to just 19,366 miles.

Laughing at Amtrak

Most people born after World War II have regarded Amtrak as a kind of joke, with its routine dysfunction and massive annual operating losses. The economics of national rail transport, however, deem that your railway system will only be as efficient as the proper mix of investment and operational fitness allows. If you starve your railways of upgrades, make them share tracks with freight rail, and divert national infrastructure spending to other modes of transport, the results will be quite predictable.

One of the great misunderstandings of public rail transport is the mistaken belief that it should run at an operating profit. Not so. The purpose of commuter rail, light-rail, or intercity rail is to harvest economy-wide efficiencies and to ensure that wasteful expenditures spent collectively on transportation can be directed elsewhere. These "savings" were not an issue and were harder to determine during the cheap oil era, when much of the national highway system was built during the era of $14/bbl oil. Now, however, the impact on household budgets and monthly cash flow from much higher oil prices is pushing U.S. transportation demand rather dramatically away from roads and highways – and instead to rail.

In Los Angeles, for example, where the aggressive Measure R has been restoring L.A.'s lost light-rail system, annual ridership has made extraordinary gains. A recent piece from LA Observed reports that "[a]verage weekday ridership on Metro's rail lines in September soared to 357,096, up nearly 12 percent over the same time last year and 16 percent over 2010." Similar restorations of commuter rail in cities like Boston and improvements in either infrastructure or rolling stock in the NY Metro region have emerged in the past decade. Indeed, some U.S. regions took the signal of oil's price revolution early and began work on local rail systems long before federal spending began to shift, ever so slightly, to rail transport.

Meanwhile, on the national level, Amtrak just announced that ridership hit an all-time high and has climbed nearly 50% in the past decade. From its October 2012 press release:

Amtrak carried more than 31.2 million passengers in Fiscal Year 2012 ending September 30, marking the highest annual ridership total since America's Railroad started operations in 1971 and the ninth ridership record during the last ten years. A year-over-year comparison of FY 2012 to FY 2011 shows ridership grew 3.5 percent to a new record of 31,240,565 passengers and ticket revenue jumped 6.8 percent to a best ever $2.02 billion. In addition, Amtrak system-wide on-time performance increased to 83 percent, up from 78.1 percent and its highest level in 12 years. During FY 2012, ridership on the Northeast Corridor is up 4.8 percent to a record 11.4 million, state-supported and other short distance routes is up 2.1 percent to a record 15.1 million and long-distance services is up 4.7 percent to their best showing in 19 years at 4.7 million. Also, FY 2012 produced other ridership achievements including new records for 25 of 44 Amtrak services, and 12 consecutive monthly records with July being the single best month in the history of Amtrak.  Since FY 2000, Amtrak ridership is up 49 percent.

Rationalizing the Rail System

Many will decry the fact that Amtrak and the United States as a whole are still not in a position to offer European- or Asian-style high-speed-rail, where sustained traveling speeds routinely average above 150 mph. However, five to six decades of neglect necessitate that the U.S. undertake its resurrection of rail in phases. Two of the many projects around the country (The Vermonter & The Cascade Line) demonstrate exactly the type of initial heavy-lifting that must be done, in which fundamental changes are made in route selection and in the separation of tracks between freight and passenger rail.

The Vermonter: New York City to Burlington

Three states, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, are currently in partnership with Amtrak to upgrade tracks, bridges, and stations along the route between Burlington and New York City. The state of Vermont has just completed its part by upgrading track with new, very long, continuously-welded rail, which will increase speeds. Work in Connecticut and Massachusetts is now underway, but one of the more significant transformations occurs in the switching of 60 miles of track from Palmer and Amherst back to the other side of the Connecticut River. This is actually a restoration of the original route between Vermont and New York, and means that trains from Springfield, MA will now travel north to Holyoke, Northampton, and then Greenfield before joining up again with the current route through Brattleboro in southern Vermont. Below is one of the new train stations, located in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

In bringing The Vermonter back to the west side of the Connecticut River, Amtrak is rationalizing the route in several ways, but most importantly it is reducing the passenger train's exposure to freight traffic. Shared tracks, in which passenger service and freight traffic run on the same routes, is actually an enormous problem in the United States and accounts for a tremendous amount of the dysfunction that many users of Amtrak services experience. The biggest change in the Vermont-New York City trip, therefore, will come via on-time reliability as the transfer away from Palmer, MA will greatly reduce overlap with freight rail. Completion of this project is currently set for 2014.

The Cascades Line

The twin ports of Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon – straddling each side of the Columbia River – have seen very strong growth the past few years as increasing volumes of lumber, potash, and wheat are shipped to Asia. Accordingly, on the north side of the river at the Port of Vancouver (Washington), a large freight rail project has been underway to help increase loadings.

But one of the little-noticed initiatives is the construction of new track to alleviate congestion for passenger trains as they head out of Portland toward Seattle. Finally, these trains will be able to steer clear of freight traffic at the Vancouver, Washington side of the river.

As usual, these are not the types of splashy, high-profile infrastructure improvements that garner headlines. But the Portland to Seattle route typically has had very poor on-time reliability, which invariably reduces ridership. As mentioned in the start of this essay, Cascades Line improvements are quite wide-ranging, with the Federal Government having awarded over $800 million to multiple projects. The upgrades will continue for several years, with noticeable differences in on-time reliability already in force.

Aiming for the Virtuous Circle: Reliability and Ridership

Amtrak's 50% increase in ridership the past decade certainly began as a result of rising oil prices, and not because of any notable service improvements. However in the latter part of the decade and especially in the past 3-4 years, Amtrak (and other rail networks) have started to deliver substantial improvements to riders as the upgrade cycle gains momentum.

Deep skepticism has greeted just about every major rail project in the country over the past twenty years. But a virtuous circle, in which riders are persuaded to reduce car-miles driven, has started to unfold as heavier demand comes online for rail services. This has been especially true in cities such as Los Angeles which started its light-rail project twenty years ago, greeted initially greeted by a fearful public. Now however, L.A. is laying track down along many of the same routes from its pre-war light-rail system. It is finally becoming possible to live in Los Angeles without a car.

Continuing the Virtuous Circle

Various trends are already coming together that will support the resurrection of rail and possibly strengthen it as we move out towards 2025. In Part II, Reducing Your Exposure to Oil, we explore ways to take part in the U.S. rail renaissance. I also offer a personal example of how much savings my own household has captured by moving to a city that is served by extensive rail transport. Finally, I give a brief update on energy transition, as the developed world continues to move away from high-priced oil and pursues economic development along the contours of the powergrid.

Click here to read Part II of this report (free executive summary; paid enrollment required for full access).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Here's how I see the future of transportation:
It's 2042. Essentially every vehicle on every road is computer-driven.

Total automobile ownership has declined by 90 percent. In 2012, a typical person was in his or her automobile less than 2 hours a day. In 2042, no one owns an autobile. Everyone simply requests an automobile that delivers door-to-door service.

There are no parking lots. With door-to-door service, there is no need for parking lots at sports stadiums, places of work, or homes. There are also no garages (in homes or in cities). All garages in homes have been converted to more living space. Gas stations are obsolete. All refueling comes at just handful of refueling stations in each city. There is little or no street lighting, especially on interstates and highways within cities,

Big-box stores, including department stores such as Walmart and Target,and grocery stores such as Kroger, Food Lion, Harris Teeter, etc. are all obsolete. People order from their homes using virtual reality, and all produce is delivered by computer-driven delivery trucks. Packaging has been largely eliminated, because there is no need to make the product look good in a store.

Speeds on roads are remarkable. Automobiles pass through intersections at 90 degree angles at 70 mph, coming within feet of each other. Autombiles on highways travel at 100+ mph, separated by a foot or two.

The number of lanes on roads has been cut dramatically. No interstate is more than one lane in each direction, and even the distance between the lanes going in opposite directions is simply enough to prevent the air buffeting that would occur if the lanes passed by more closely.

The average "lane" on a road is actually two parallel paths of asphalt, with grass in between. This is because the cars, buses, and trucks drive so accurately that there's no need to pave the area between the paths. Light rail is obsolete.

Most automobiles have no trunks and no back seats. There is no need when one can order a car that can completely match one's needs at the time it is ordered. There are no seat belts or air bags, because the computer-driven cars don't crash.

Most intercity transportation is in the form of buses, which travel at 120+ mph. People take computer-driven cars to the bus. Then take the bus to the other city. Then take computer-driven cars in the new city.

Randal O'Toole is one of the biggest frauds when it comes to transportation policy, and CATO is a think-tank funded by Big Oil. They don't want there to be a rail revolution in America, it would directly compete with their hold on transportation that they enjoy today.The idea that we can rely on the automobile is a tragic and dangerous idea that will likely dissapoint those who think this automobile-centric society can sustain itself. It can't, and it won't. Rail is the most energy effiecient mode of transportation on land (water beats out even rail). The automobile requires the most energy per mile, and there will never be 100 million electric cars to replace the fleet we have today. Not enough capital, and not enough resources to do it.
CATO knows better, but the people that pay the Mr. O'Toole's of the world make sure that these 'think tanks' spew out more garbage so people link them into articles that acctually do show where the future of transpotation is, and that's rail.
Good article Mr. Macdonald. Keep up the good work.

Are there other factors driving the increase in train use like  growing urban population, shifting demographics, etc?  How does car ownership per capita compare to other countries?

I heartily agree with all you wrote, but feel the need to put it into a real-world context. For the past two decades, I've been in the trenches, trying to do exactly what you wrote about: shift public funds away from highway building into rail and bus transit. My experience is that public officials are far more motivated by friendly highway construction companies than by environmental arguments. Worse yet, I've fought hard (unsuccessfully) to stop massively expensive rail projects that do more for the vanity of their sponsors than for train riders.

When seen from a distance, it may look like things are shifting towards rail. Closer up, though, I have to tell you that insiders are manipulating the system. My experience is that the worst projects are the ones that qualify for funding, because of the politics and favor-trading behind them. It's all about the pork…

I have spent 8 years as a rail advocate fighting the totally politicized California High-Speed Rail project. While this could be the State's marquee project for fighting climate change, instead it has turned into a giant money suck–one that will make contractors and no one else happy.

This isn't a story you want to hear, I'm sure. But it is the real world. I invite you to check out a presentation I just put together, entitled Fighting for What Could Be.


I've spent the last 5 years making sure high-speed rail IS built in California, and thankfully it will start construction next year. Do you really think a project that connects over 20 California cities with electrified rail was gonna be cheap? Nothing is cheap anymore. It takes sacrifice and resources to build something as game-changing as high-speed rail. A rail advocate that is opposed to high-speed rail has got his or her priorties messed up. The project will be a catalyst that spurs local public transit projects, shift hearts and minds away from the automobile, and will reduce greenhouse gases and pollution. Seriously, opposing high-speed rail now is giving up on our future. 
I saw the presentation you posted. I would like to break down your arguments.
First, the Central Valley section of track is the most important section to build first for many reasons. 1) Easy terrain and relatively low costs will connect over 2 million people in the cities of Fresno, Merced, Hanford, and Bakersfield. As I suspect, you probably aren't from the Central Valley, so you don't relate to these people and the economy that is there. We've been written off long enough from the Bay Area and Southern California to be told we don't get to have access to this HSR line. 2) The I-5 alignment is inferior to the current alignment in terms of private operations. More passengers = More profits. 3) The envirnomental documents on all other sections of the project are nowhere near finished.
TRAC has been completely wrong about HSR since the beginning. What you don't realize is that politics will always come into play on ANY infrastructure project, so instead of working with the vested interests (like the Central Valley communities that want HSR) you write us off and want to bypass us.
On your own website, you have a map showing the difference between the Altamont and Pacheco alignments with the phrase "Follow the People! Follow the Lights!". Well take that bit of knowledge and apply it to the I-5 alignment! You're contradicting yourself on your own website!
I actually think Altamont is better than Pacheco (unless your the City of San Jose and want all trains to stop there) but I noticed you've allied yourself with the PAMPA communities. Well, the communities of Altamont will be just as upset as PAMPA is with the current alignment. That's the process of building infrastucture.

I'm all in favor of stepping up to the plate and fixing our rail system. At the same time, I am baffled at the ongoing level of freeway construction (at least out west). It is as if the bureaucrats at the local levels are more interested in getting Federal funds that working on serious local planning.
On another topic, I was involved with a long distance bicycle race that we wanted to start in downtown Portland. We were prepared to start the riders in small groups so as not to interfere with traffic and even to not "race" until clear of the city area. After days of searching for a reasonably safe route out of the city, we gave up as there was no way to do it. Couldn't even find a reasonable way for a single commuter to get out of the city in a safe manner.

Leaves me with a chuckle about how well planned the green transportation is around the City of Portland. Could be some good things about living there, but cycling as a form of transportation is not one of them.


Don't get me wrong - I'm a huge fan of railroads and think that's the way America wisely SHOULD be heading. But what I've been seeing for the last twenty years is railroad right-of-ways having their railbeds torn out, the steel shipped to China and some bike trails being put in. Yes, lately there has been some talk and "funding" on getting a few highly used railbeds back up to spec. And not for "high-speed" either even though that's what we like to delude ourselves into calling it. It's for normal traditional railroad speed – steam locomotives were going 80mph 100 years ago.
And assuming we can get through the vested political/business interests who are against spending a dime on RRs where is the money going to come from to pay for all this? When we built our railroad infrastructure from say 1860-1950 we became and were the manufacturing powerhouse of the world who knew how to build things. I don't see the future holding a lot of hugely expensive infrastructure build-outs in the USA. And the State of California is heading towards bankruptcy.

Not to mention the cheap, plentiful coal and oil that powered it all. Are we going to do it on fracked gas and shale oil? Maybe we can do it on coal - and then kiss the climate good-bye.


Randal O'Toole is one of the biggest frauds when it comes to transportation policy...
This is an ad hominem argument. In what way do you think the article I linked to is "fraudulent"?
...and CATO is a think-tank funded by Big Oil.
This is also an ad hominem argument. Perhaps more importantly, virtually all the rail traffic in the U.S. uses diesel locomotives. For instance, the Cascade Line Gregor McDonald writes about uses diesel locomotives, and even the picture is of a diesel locomotive. So both buses and most trains run on diesel.
They don't want there to be a rail revolution in America, it would directly compete with their hold on transportation that they enjoy today.
Again, the "rail revolution," if it occurs (it probably will not) will not rely on electrified locomotives (let alone electrified locomotives getting a majority of their power from photovoltaics or wind). So the question is, is a train powered by a diesel locomotive better than a bus powered by a diesel engine...AND driven by a computer. I think the answer is pretty clearly that a bus powered by a diesel engine...AND driven by a better. Such a bus would be capable of traveling at sustained speeds in excess of 100 mph safely...and with energy efficiency (expressed in gallons of diesel per passenger mile) comparable to a diesel train running at the same speed.
CATO knows better, but the people that pay the Mr. O'Toole's of the world make sure that these 'think tanks' spew out more garbage so people link them into articles that acctually do show where the future of transpotation is, and that's rail.
If that dream is keeping you alive, stay with it. But it's a dream. Here is a breakdown of the number of passenger-miles for each mode of transportation. Rail isn't even 1% of the total passenger-miles traveled, and it probably never will be in the U.S.  

I love the concept of high speed rail, but I don't know anyone else who does.
My grandson and I took a rail adventure on Amtrak a few years ago from GA to Washington.  We had to be dropped off at the station in Columbia SC an hour away in the middle of the night–but then the train was four hours late and the waiting room did not even have enough chairs for all the sleepy passengers.  Story was that the train had to wait for freight on the side rail while we were waiting in the station.

We really enjoyed the train ride.  There was a chance to get up and move around, go eat in the dining car, enjoy good food, play a hand of spades, meet other travelers, read a book, and take a nap.  There were some well dressed travelers who got on in North Carolina to go straight to New York for a Broadway play and get back on the train to go home: great for them.

We arrived late in the afternoon, so we were on the train about 12 hours instead of the nine we would have spent otherwise.  We chose to hitch a ride back home in a car with a friend and not use the return ticket.

If we had train connections locally, and if we didn't have these scheduling problems, and if people were going somewhere that did not demand a car once they arrived, more people would be excited about it.  In the cities I can visualize that–a lot of people drive to the train stations to go into Washington, New York, and Boston. In the heartland of the country, those are a lot of problems to solve.

Obama made some initial efforts to support the railroads, but all I have heard from anyone in the last few years has been ridicule.  There has not been an effort to convince America that we need better rail service.  I would be excited about it.




None one ever mentions lost productivity of straight jacket transportation system.  Use rail where it makes sense and high mileage cars where they makes sense.

phfresno - your post didn't include any $ symbols.   Likely because the math in California doesn't add up:  A $100B rail project for which funding of  less than $13B exists.   And Califonia Congressional candidates are saying they won't vote for additional funding.  The train boondoggle would run at a loss of $2B annually, money California simply doesn't have.
California public sentiment is now against the rail line 60% to 40%.

You say the train will begin being built next year.   I say, with a "track" record of $6B already spent, and not a mile of railline laid so far, that train will not leave the station.

Mr. Macdonald's post describes rail projects funding by federal stimulus dollars.  However, he never once uses the word stimulus, or mentioning that these projects have yet to be paid for.   He writes as though these few projects have been built because of public outcry and demand, instead of the real reason: Congressional favors.

In fact, many states rejected the perma-debt inducing stimulus funds for rail, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.  They recognized the rail projects as long term budget busters and said NO.   In addition, Congress zeroed out funding for rail projects last year, making it likely the rail pork will no longer available for projects elsewhere.

When I read this one-sided, biased article from Mr. Macdonald, I questioned why he describes himself as an "analyst".   An analyst engages in analysis, not the active support of a cause.


Hi,You write,

I love the concept of high speed rail, but I don't know anyone else who does.
I think you need to re-read the blog post and some of the comments here, And I'm not against the concept of high-speed rail. But one needs to consider the potential effects of future developments in artificial intelligence on transportation. It is virtually certain that automobiles, trucks, and buses will eventually be computer-driven. The only question is, when? I think the transition from only a few Google-owned computer-driven automobiles, to every vehicle on the road being computer-driven, will occur within the next 30 years. If so, that can significantly affect transportation. My prediction is that interstate speeds in excess of 100 mph will be common, and speeds even within cities will be above 60 mph (i.e., no traffic jams). The "no traffic jams," plus 60 mph speeds, plus the ability to use cars that are incredibly small (e.g. the Smart Car) without fear of collisions, will doom light rail. And the 100+ mph speeds for buses on interstates, combined with the fact that buses have energy efficiency (gallons of diesel per passenger mile) similar to diesel trains will put a huge squeeze on the potential for high-speed interstate rail. There will only be the slimmest of niches between where airplanes are most appropriate (e.g., between cities that are more than 500 miles apart) and where buses are most appropriate (cities separated by less than 300 miles). Some additional comments regarding your experience:
"We had to be dropped off at the station in Columbia SC an hour away in the middle of the night..."
This problem will be solved by computer-driven automobiles, in the sense that you will not be troubling anyone to drive an hour to drop you off (and then presumably also drive back to your hometown). It will also be likely that the trip that took you one hour will be more like 30-45 minutes, because the computer-driven car will be going much faster.
but then the train was four hours late and the waiting room did not even have enough chairs for all the sleepy passengers. Story was that the train had to wait for freight on the side rail while we were waiting in the station.
This could be solved by computer-driven cars, plus smartphone long as the train knew it was going to be on that siding...or if the siding was more than an hour from the station you were going to.
We really enjoyed the train ride.  There was a chance to get up and move around, go eat in the dining car, enjoy good food, play a hand of spades, meet other travelers, read a book, and take a nap.
The article I linked to in the first comment talks about luxury interstate buses that have only about 30 seats, rather than the usual 60. It's definitely not "dining car," but you definitely would be able to stretch your legs out. Plus, if it's going 100+ mph, the trip from Columbia to Washington DC is only 4-5 hours.
If we had train connections locally, and if we didn't have these scheduling problems, and if people were going somewhere that did not demand a car once they arrived, more people would be excited about it.
In the transportation future I expect within the next 30 years, you would have a computer-driven car to bring you to Columbia. (Then that car would do things around Columbia, and might eventually make it back to your hometown. Or not. Maybe some other car would take you back to your hometown.) The snafu with the scheduling (3 hours late) could certainly be fixed by decent smartphone updates. And the car once you arrived in Washington DC would also be computer-driven. But it's still hard to see how people would be "excited" by the train trip from Columbia to Washington DC in the future I imagine. They could get a bus that only has ~30 people in it (that's seven rows of four there would probably be a good 5 feet from the seats in front and in back), that goes from Columbia SC to Washington DC in 4-5 hours, for probably less money than the train. (For that matter, they could go by computer-driven car all the way from your hometown to Washington, DC, but the gasoline cost would be much higher than if they were on a bus.)  

If you really believe the Federal government will never spend any money on rail in the future, you are in denial. The fact of the matter is, as gas prices go up, support for rail and public transit projects will go up in direct correlation to gas prices. Public sentiment in California is still around 50-50, especially since parts of this state saw $5 gas prices in the last month. As construction begins, public opinion will shift back towards favorability for high-speed rail.And if you wanna talk about a gross waste of federal stimulus dollars, just take a look at how much we spent on highways that are not wanted nor needed. Our road infrastructure is the best in the world, and I'm in favor of maintaining it, but the expansion will stop, just as we've seen the suburban sprawl begin to withdrawal, and new housing projects are quickly becoming extinct.
You speak of this current Congress as being permanent and will not change its priorities about rail funding. That couldn't be farther from the truth, because once driving your car becomes unaffordable to most people, those who deny the building of alternatives to driving will quickly be seeing the door. It hasn't happened yet, but oil price spikes and shortages are not very far away now. It really is only a matter of time.

The mindset that all we need to do is computerize our cars is a non-solution. It actually will likely do much more harm than good. The problem is the energy that runs the cars, not who is in control of the car. And let me tell you, people aren't going to give up driving their cars to a computer. It will never happen. Sure, some parts of this country might, but the only way a computer-driven car system works is if ALL the cars a computer-driven. Why? Because if you mix computer-driven and human-driven cars on a mass scale, you're going to run into a little problem with safety. You think our roads are unsafe now (driving as always been pretty unsafe, 40,000+ deaths a year, virtually zero for rail) wait till you've mixed drivers. It will not work.Next, I have yet to hear what you think of future liquid fuels for our cars. By 2040, liquid fuels will be virtually non-existent for the majority of people wanting to drive. It will be electric cars, rail, bicycling, and a lot of walking. Hopefully, your community has built some sort of walkable areas that will thrive in an era of low energy consumption. The automobile will be reduced significantly in its presence as compared to today. There won't be 100 million electric cars to replace the current fleet of gas powered cars, simply because we can't afford that. That's TRILLIONS of dollars more than building rail and public transit lines in America, let alone what it’s going to take to maintain all of the highways and roads we've built for the cars. To say the least, it's not looking good for the car-centric future you think will happen.

Public sentiment in California is still around 50-50, especially since parts of this state saw $5 gas prices in the last month. As construction begins, public opinion will shift back towards favorability for high-speed rail.
The public is in favor of a lot of things, as long as they don't have to pay for them. Absent federal money  high-speed rail in California wouldn't happen. Just like the Big Dig in Boston wouldn't have happened if Massachusetts had paid for the whole thing. 
And if you wanna talk about a gross waste of federal stimulus dollars, just take a look at how much we spent on highways that are not wanted nor needed.
The logic here is that, if we waste money on highways that are not wanted or needed, we should also waste money on high-speed rail? A better idea would be to stop wasting money on highways.
It hasn't happened yet, but oil price spikes and shortages are not very far away now.
What do you think gasoline will reach? $8 a gallon? $12? $20? If gasoline is $8, going from one person per car to two will bring the cost down to exactly the same as before. (And that's the GASOLINE cost, which is not at all the same as the total cost per mile.)  At $12 per gallon, going to 3 people per car will bring the cost down to exactly the same as for 1 person. There's also the fact that even if prices went to $20 per gallon, most people would simply buy plug-in hybrids, and do most of driving on batteries, since the average commuting distance in the U.S. is 16 miles.  

Not only will the price of gasoline go up significantly, but some areas will be completely cut off. You don't seem to understand this. If the choice is Average Joe wants to fill up at $10 a gallon, or Farmer Bob needs to run the tractor today to feed thousands of people, Joe isn’t going to be able to fill up, so there won't be liquid fuels for everybody. It's not just a price concern, it’s an availability concern. Not only will we see price rationing, but we will see actual rationing of the amount you can buy out of necessity to keep society somewhat functional. The pie is shrinking, so reducing demand is the most important and impactful thing we can do. That means investing more in transit and rail, and less on highways and airports.

phfresno, - you write as though Congress understands or cares about peak oil and how it will impact personal transporation.
Chris Martenson and many others have written extensively how central government are a) not believing in peak oil  or b) lack the political will to lift a finger to prepare.

They are 30 years behind the timeline in which to prepare for the upcoming cheap energy decline.  This, coupled with the massive upcoming depression will leave zero funds available for infrastructure development, especially interstate rail.

I noticed you didn't respond to my highlighting of the dollars and cents problem.  There is no available U.S. money, even now !  Right now, you are watching Greece, Spain, France, Portugal, Italy descend into bankruptcy.  They have it good compared to the upcoming U.S. currency problems.

Not that I wouldn't like more rail.  After all, we desperately need more trains that go from no where to no where, carry no passengers, and cost more the the national budget of 90% of the world's nations.    And, how will all of those inside the D.C. beltway train contractors survive without pork to eat ?

Hundreds of millions of trips are made by public transit and rail every year in America. Where do you live? The deep south?

[quote] Automobiles pass through intersections at 90 degree angles at 70 mph[/quote]This seems unlikely.  How many G's would a body have to pull?