American Society of Highway Engineers
Local Sections
Consultants and Suppliers
Job Bank
Organizational Links
Section Operating Manual
2000-2003 Strategic Plan
ASHE National Conference
Scanner Newsletter
Officers and Directors
Contact ASHE
Scanner Newsletter  

Planned High-Speed Rail's Positive Impacts on Travel in the Southeast
By Carter-Burgess

The interstate highway system is rapidly becoming congested and in need of repair. Many metropolitan areas report that their highway systems are at least 5-10 years behind current traffic demands. Furthermore, automobile accidents remain the number one cause of travel-related fatalities. Since the tragedies of September 11, people have become skittish about air travel, and security concerns have created long delays at airports. Commuters and businesses are taking a closer look at a mode of transportation once pronounced dead - rail travel.

High-speed rail has become an attractive solution for interstate travel and shipping. Existing high-speed rail systems in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest are expanding, while California and the Midwest are in the planning stages for high-speed rails. The Southeast, which faces a potential 400% increase in automobile traffic over the next few decades, is studying alternatives to automobile travel with the development of the Southeast High Speed Rail (SEHSR).

Spanning 500 miles from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C., the SEHSR is expected to cost between $2.5 and $2.96 billion, about one-third of the construction cost of new highways spanning the two cities. For comparison, Atlanta's airport expansion will cost approximately $5.2 billion; expansion of 310 miles of Interstate 81 in Virginia is projected to cost $3.3 billion, and the 7.5-mile urban tunnel project in Boston could cost $11 billion.

When SEHSR is complete, it will whisk goods and passengers along the 500-mile route, making stops at most metropolitan areas along the way. It will begin its run with an average speed of 87 mph, hopefully increasing to 110 mph.

Travel on the SEHSR is expected to cost about one-fifth of a similar trip on an airline. The system eventually will access additional southern states, with routes extending into South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

State and local regulatory agencies anticipate that the SEHSR could increase rail passenger volume from Washington, DC, to Charlotte, NC, threefold by 2015. It is estimated that the system could potentially divert one million passengers from using auto or air transportation. This will result in a significant relief on auto and air traffic. As highways become less congested, they will also become safer and more environmentally friendly. As people ride the rail rather than airplanes, airports that already are facing an expansion crisis won't need to add runways as quickly.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 41,471 highway fatalities, 621 aviation fatalities and 1,008 railroad fatalities in 1998. It should be noted, however, that there were only four rail passenger fatalities - the majority of railroad fatalities were related to freight operations, rail trespassers, rail workers, and highway-rail accidents. To reduce such potential numbers on the SEHSR, Virginia DOT is implementing measures to improve safety. These measures include constructing pedestrian and vehicle bridges over the rails as well as testing physical barriers to block access to the rails. North Carolina is also taking an active interest in the latest solutions to rail safety.

The Southeast is quickly becoming a bustling region, dotted with the headquarters of major corporations rather than farmland, and crisscrossed with freeways rather than fences. A temperate climate, an educated work population, and a regulatory structure favorable to industry make the region tempting to businesses. As the Southeast is increasingly urbanized, its transportation needs will surge. SEHSR will provide a safe, economical, and environmentally sensitive travel alternative.

Back to the Top