A Beautiful Vision Of An American High-Speed Rail Map

Imagine if the entire country was linked by 220-mile-per-hour trains. That’s what this map does.

High-speed rail in this country is a joke. The Acela barely even hits its highest speed on its short route from Washington, D.C., to Boston and projects have been scuttled across the rest of the country as governments tighten their belts, leaving us well behind Europe and Asia when it comes to fast, efficient rail travel.

But imagine if things were different. Imagine if, instead of a rail system that hadn’t materially improved in nearly a century, our government had built an amazing network of high-speed rail lines that could whisk you from any major city to another in a matter of hours. That’s what this map, from California Rail Map, does.

Click to enlarge.

Created by Alfred Twu, the map compiles visions of possible American rail systems from a long list of places and mashes them together to show what a national rail network might look like. Need to get from Boston to Atlanta. That’s easy. Just hop on the Blue Line to New York, grab a quick transfer to the White Line, and you’ll be there in just a few hours.

Given the difficulties in building just a tiny part of this system (the chunk of the Yellow Line from L.A. to San Francisco), we’re so amazingly far away from this happening. Looking at this map can be more frustrating than inspiring. But just imagine.

Add New Comment


  • Sapan Shah


    Great article and gorgeous infographic.  

    Sign this petition to Obama for a better rail network. 
    Create an affordable, energy-efficient, high speed rail network.Developing a better rail network could have several major positive impacts. If affordable, it would decrease the numbers of cars and buses on roads as well as the number of people being hassled through airport security. This would dramatically decrease energy usage and could very much speed up traveling time. This process would create millions of jobs and reduce the number of car and bus accidents.https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petit... I do not get a commission if you sign this petition.  Its genuinely a topic I feel passionate about.  

  • Erin Downey Howerton

    Ultimately, I believe that businesses will come to support a HSR model because it will allow for more productivity.  When you board a train with WiFi, you are able to keep working in a way that you're unable to in a crowded airport.  Although the trip might take a bit longer and be a little more expensive, the increase in productivity could pay for itself.  

  • Emy Louie

    I love to celebrate a beautiful poster, map or image and
    this is one of them.  It took a long time coming to arrive to this
    seemingly simple map, and this map built upon the hard work from many
    organizations and people.

    For example, one time, I visited the Taj Mahal and I wondered at its beauty and
    then I realized that there where other prototypes (other drafts) that came
    before it -- that mastery is a result of a lot of hard work.


    Emy Louie, Author of Fast Trains—America's High
    Speed Future

  • peterlortz

    A better idea serving more of the United States is systematic modernization of the freight rail system with multiple tracks, grade separation, and automatic train control, with provisions for passenger traffic.  That gets more of the freight off the highways, saving energy and lessening environmental impact, and places the possibility of passenger trains and fast intermodal freight into most communities in America.  You can research the ideas at this site:  http://steelinterstate,.org

  • neilhunt

    Since we are NEVER going to get Americans--those living outside of large communities with public-transport and beyond -to relinquish their cars then what wld be far more importantly beneficial for all in the nation--is to improve the public-transport systems of those densely populated cities--& the city to city corridors of the more densely populated areas of the country. THAT makes sense --and in that respect many countries are far ahead of us. 

  • David Bradley

    HSR isn't possible in a country our size because of the additional travel required after getting off. If you could pair this with an additional business that could rid the need for car ownership or get some corporate involvement it might work, but the additional expenses don't make sense at the individual level.

  • How is this any different from what you experience when flying? Rental cars and taxis are available at pretty much any airport with regular commercial service. I don't see that as a problem. The size of the nation has impacts, but HSR is better at serving short to medium trips and we have plenty of cities that fall in that range of one another, especially in the eastern half of the country.

  • Chris Reich

    We are so great at building things on budget that this is sure to be a great success. "Cool" maps are not a transportation system.

  • Detex

     Bob, you are correct. I flew from Burlington VT to NYC last week. The train would have been $110 and take 7 hours where as the plane was $95 and took 40 min. With that said, getting to Burlington a few days earlier I drove and it took about 8 hours and a tank of gas. Flying was almost cheaper than driving.

  • Double

    The rail system in the United States is the best in the world...we can transport goods across our massive country and keep everything at a reasonable price.  The air travel is in the United States is efficient and cheap...we can travel across our massive country in 4 hours or less.  Trying to look like a tiny country like England or Italy is delusional.

  • John Dough

    Know It All, I suspect you've never been out of Fantasyland. The customary units of measuring freight movement is ton-miles. According to the USDOT, in 2007 (latest date available), rail carried 39.5% of all domestic freight and trucks carried 28.6%. The rest was distributed between air, water & pipeline.

    Double, America has the best *freight* rail system in the world. Passenger rail whiners don't realize that the #2 reason for Amtrak delays is "sitting on a track, waiting for a freight train to go by". Why? Freight trains are higher value and are profitable and, most importatly, freight operators own the tracks. (#1 reason is poor track condition)

    And that, friends, is why freight operators hate passenger service *almost* as much as the taxpayers who have to pay for it. It's also why one seldom hears talk about improving existing track and one instead hears about these cockamamie "beautiful" high speed rail fantasies.

    If ever there were enough passengers on trains to be a meaningful target for terrorists, rail too would be a "hostile, time-consuming endeavor".

    Kaylin, we're still waiting. Are you still here or are you on your way to Korea?

  • traveler

    Dude, I suspect you've never been out of this country.  We transport goods primarily by truck; commodities (coal, grain) are what go by rail.  Passenger rail is only meaningful in the Northeast, and our system pales in comparison to other industrialized countries.  Air travel *used to be* efficient, now, it is a hostile, time-consuming endeavor.

  • John Dough

    Time is money. Speed costs.

    Highways are more expensive than back roads. Jaguars are more expensive than Volts. Jet planes are more expensive that prop planes. Motorcycles are more expensive than bicycles. Motorboats are more expensive than canoes. Airmail is more expensive than First Class. Priority Overnight is more expensive than Ground. Elevators are more expensive than stairs.

    In all the above cases, users pay all or almost all the incremental costs of premium service.

    Who would pay the premium cost that premium speed HSR would provide over, say, Amtrak?