High Speed Ground Transportation:
Strategic Approach Needed for Introduction of HSGT
T-RCED-93-35, Apr 29, 1993
GAO discussed the development of high-speed ground transportation (HSGT) in the United States, focusing on: (1) alternative HSGT technologies; and (2) infrastructure improvements needed to implement HSGT on existing railroad rights-of-way. GAO noted that: (1) HSGT costs will vary depending on what technology is adopted; (2) the incremental approach to HSGT costs the least because it does not require new right-of-way acquisition, but HSGT costs will increase as top speed increases to 150 miles per hour (mph); (3) electrifying track and eliminating grade crossings are the most expensive ways to upgrade existing rail services; (4) the incremental approach to HSGT would require the cooperation of freight railroads, since they own most of the existing rights-of-way; (5) Amtrak continues to improve high-speed service in its northeast corridor operations with electric trains, but it is exploring development of a fast nonelectric locomotive that could operate on nonelectrified tracks; (5) trains faster than 150 mph will require dedicated rights-of-way and specialized guideways for magnetic levitation systems, which could increase costs by up to 300 percent; (6) HSGT development has been slow because investors perceive high risks and poor revenue projections with HSGT; (7) HSGT could produce social benefits such as relief from airport and highway congestion, energy conservation, and air and noise pollution abatement, but they are difficult to measure; and (8) increased federal funding could spur HSGT development by reducing the perceived investment risk, but Congress needs to target resources to ensure that projects are built.