america's railroad system is so humiliating, japan has offered to help

words mary von aue  |  image dom pates

Well this is just embarrassing. Americans grew up learning that the First Transcontinental Railroad was once the symbol of American progress and rebirth in 1869. Weren’t trains supposed to be an American thing?

The US has barely patented a railroad innovation since. America broke records in 1830 when the locomotive Tom Thumb first made its way along 21 kilometers (13 miles) of Baltimore and Ohio railroad track. Now Ohio boasts a different world record: the World’s Worst Maintained Railroad. The 15 mile long Maumee & Western line, despite assistance from the State of Ohio, has tracks that haven’t received heavy maintenance since the 1960s.  

the last impressive american train

the last impressive american train

While Japan is building the maglev, which can reach the speed of 375 miles per hour, America’s fastest train, Acela, clocks in at 149mph. That would still be impressive if Acela didn’t lack a dedicated high-speed rail line, affecting its speed limit and giving it an average speed to just 68mph. Even then, their service is limited to routes between DC and Boston. The rest of the country, if they have the luxury of a railroad at all, must adhere to the federal regulations that limit passenger trains to 59 mph without block signal systems.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting the US this week to sightsee and marvel at the antiquated style of living. Presumably taking pity on the inferior infrastructure, he has offered to spend $5 billion on the construction of a high-speed train that could successfully connect DC to Baltimore in 15 minutes.

via european pressphoto agency

via european pressphoto agency

In addition to offering modern technology to the US capitol, Prime Minister Abe has begun a three-day visit to California where he hopes to promote the Japanese-made maglev train during a meeting with Governor Jerry Brown. The California High-Speed Rail Network, the largest project for a high-speed train in the US, is still under construction and facing backlash from concerned residents.

His offer is generous, but is America ready for technology this sophisticated? The Acela can’t even reach its potential speed due to rail line restrictions. Without the infrastructure to support new technology, high-speed trains could be a waste of innovation.  Moreover, plans for public transit development are always met with vocal resistance, solidifying America’s image as a car loving country. But where do most of those cars come from? Japan of course.

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