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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  • Bill Michtom

    This map isolates the Northwest by only going here through California. Right now, Amtrak goes from Chicago to the Northwest without going an extra 1000 miles.

  • Bill Michtom

    Why leave out the Northwest except through California? Right now there is a line from Chicago to the Northwest. This "vision" deletes that route..

  • Eric Van Bezooijen

    China is already doing this. Note that China is about the same size as mainland USA, although they only have to serve about half as much territory as we do. But it shows it's not impossible.

  • Matt Yates

    All we have to do is just hire the Chinese to do it. They have a he amount of expertise.

    They are laughing at the expense being entertained for rail in California. They could cover our whole nation for that price.

  • Eric Van Bezooijen

    Yup, China is already doing this, and their country is around the same size as ours. Their large cities are only concentrated in half the territory though, so they do have a bit easier, but it shows it's not impossible.

  • Willy Clark

    I saw this and got excited because I thought it was a plan of something actually in the works. Then I realized that it was actually just pointing out how far away we are from this and I got super depressed.

    I'd absolutely love if this ever came about. But I'm saddened by the fact that I'll probably have been dead for years by the time it finally happens.

  • Looks interesting. It's the same map trotted out by the Obama administration several years ago. I wish it was closer to reality than it actually will be. There are plenty of automobile lobbyist who have kept mass transportation like this out of the cities and stifled anything like Amtrak from being more than a blip on the radar.

    On a picky note, it would have been nice for the map designer to fact check some city names. It's Greenville, SC, not Greeneville, SC. #yeahthatgreenville

  • WaveringLiberal

    LA to San Francisco? You mean Bakersfield to Fresno. Considering you can fly from LAX to SF in an hour, that rail system, if built, will never make money. Only a government would invest billions in a feel-good money losing venture like that.

  • The US is a country of regions. The Northeast and California are the regions most suited to high speed rail. High speed rail will be most successful where it is supported by a network of interfaces to other modes of transportation: commuter rail, subway, zip car, airports.

    The ReThinkNYC plan provides this at the center of the Northeast HSR corridor. www.rethinknyc.com has all of the details.

  • Epstein's Mother

    "Imagine if, ... 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. "

    You mean, like an airplane?

  • 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.  

  • Epstein's Mother

    A "bit" longer? A "little" more expensive?

    3 times as long (at a minimum) isn't "a bit" longer, particularly where stops between cities are involved. And given that airlines go bankrupt on a regular basis because of steep competition over price, I get the feeling you're vastly underestimating how price-sensitive travelers can be.

  • 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