“Trainsforming America” is a new documentary that takes a hard look at why America has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to properly investing in an efficient passenger rail system. Filmmakers Rebecca Autumn Sansom and Katie Chen interview rail riders, experts and policymakers to find out what people think about the future of passenger rail in the country. Chen travels to Europe to experience their passenger rail system and compares the ease of train travel on the other side of the Atlantic to America’s antiquated rail system. Once the envy of the world, U.S. rail has fallen into disrepair and forces most Americans to rely on overloaded roads and overburdened airports.


Trainsforming America, California High-Speed Rail, HSR, fast trains
Image via California High-Speed Rail Authority

“The reason I made this film is because I feel a heightened sense of responsibility to do whatever I can to ensure that my generation’s opportunities are no longer car dependent,” Sansom tells Inhabitat.

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Thankfully, there are some signs of change on the horizon:

  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) committed an initial $8 billion to high-speed rail and intercity passenger rail improvements across the country.
  • Last year Amtrak announced their 10th annual ridership record in 11 years, carrying 31.6 million passengers. Amtrak’s ridership is growing faster than any other major form of travel.
  • California’s high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the Central Valley is moving forward. The nation’s first true HSR line recently won federal approval to start construction on a 114-mile section from Fresno to Bakersfield. The state has already broken ground on a 29-mile stretch from Madera to Fresno.
  • Texas is going to build a 205 mph high-speed rail line that will connect Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes.
  • Japan, the nation that invented high-speed rail back in 1964 with the Shinkansen bullet train, is offering $5 billion in financing to build a maglev line between Washington and Baltimore that would take 15 minutes at a top speed of 311 mph. Eventually the line would be extended to NYC and would take less than an hour to travel from D.C. to NYC.

The film points out that a nationwide HSR system, similar to the fast trains traversing the European continent every day, would cost $500 billion. That figure is compared to the $800 billion government bailout and $782 billion and counting spent on the Iraq War. So clearly it is not a matter of money but of priorities. When American voters elect leaders with the political will to fund a 21st-Century passenger rail system, then the country will join the rest of the developed world and get one.

“By 2050, our population will have grown by 100 million. Meeting the demands this growth will put on our already aging and insufficient transportation system will require making innovative investments to expand capacity and improve efficiency,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenaeur (D-Ore.) tells Inhabitat. “High speed passenger rail must be part of the solution, and ‘Trainsforming America’ brings that message to a new audience.”

+ Trainsforming America

Lead image via Trainsforming America