Planned High-Speed Rail's Positive
Impacts on Travel in the Southeast
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
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
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
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.
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