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.

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  • Alan Hale

    If it was a totally govt funded project, like the Interstate system, that's fine. But what's going to happen is the govt is going to give for-profit corporations money to build these things. People are going to lose their land and space in the process.

    Millions of urbanites forget: Between those dots live millions that enjoy quiet, open space, and peace. That land where that line runs belongs to someone. If they can keep the tracks on existing ROW or utility corridors that's fine too. Just leave private landowners out of it. And make environmental buffers so they don't have to deal with the signs and sounds of a bullet train.

  • 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.  

  • tanvi.damani

    People should do that anyways. However, public transportation (and I don't mean cabs) are a lot more energy efficient than cars.

  • 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

  • Emy Louie

    Keep up the discussions!

    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.

  • tanvi.damani

    HSR is pretty well integrated in the continent of Europe. Yeah they have some issues, but some of the major issues revolve around the fact that different countries use different track systems and mechanisms.

    Yes, the US is a huge space of land, but HSR is a lot more sustainable than, say flying. You move a lot more people using a lot less fuel. It's a lot more time efficient. And it is easily integrated into a city's public transportation system.

    Heck if people really tried, they could have a lot of things integrated on smart phones making it easy for people to find PT to get to their final destinations.

    The Rail Network in the US is a mess. There is so much traffic because passenger and freight use the same lines. having dedicated HSR, could help alleviate some of the traffic.

    Yes, it needs land and infrastructure. But come on, the US has fewer people/square meter of land than countries like India. If you really think about it, land is not the problem.

  • Chris Antcliff

    Rail is insanely integrated over there as a whole, however, their cities were built long before modern conveniences like subways, rails, and cars so they are incredibly localized. You can live you entire life in a decent neighborhood and never need to travel more than 5 miles from home. Their rail system is so effective because they don't need cars to get around in day to day life, or even for special occasions.

    Europe has 3.9million sq miles of space, for all those nations, with almost 750million people. The US in contrast has 3.8 million sq miles with just a touch under 325 million people.

    Europe has almost double the population density on average, which doesn't sound like much, but it is when you really look at it.

  • Alan Hale

    The land isn't the problem... unless it's your land that you paid for and make a living off of that they want to build on.

  • 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.

  • Bob

    It won't work here because all said and done, flying is still cheaper than hopping on a train.

  • tanvi.damani

    That is not true at all.

    In addition, the time it takes you to get on a train, is a lot less than the time it takes you to get on an airplane (Door of the station to door of the transport vehicle).

    True HSR (not NE corridor HSR) is different than regular trains -- it's in the name. It goes a lot faster so a trip that would have taken 7 hours by regular train, would probably take ~2-3 hours (probably less) by HSR since it can reach speeds of 220mph even though many trains average about 180-190mph.

    They would be a lot more efficient than cars of trains in terms of energy.